National Politics

The Boston bombing and the Media

Boston_bombingIt started with an Associated Press breaking news update on my phone: Two explosions at Boston Marathon finish line.

Then it was a barrage of such updates, each time a new detail emerging in the horrible act of terror that happened in Boston Monday.

I will confess, I spent much of my Monday evening scrolling through my Twitter feed, trying to keep up on the news from the scene of the attack. While I was grateful that I could learn about what happened quickly, it was disturbing to me, as a reporter, to see how many news outlets were getting it wrong. This has become a problem with recent major, breaking news stories. News outlets are in such a rush to get the story first that they don’t take the time to get the story right.

First, only two people were killed. Then, it was 12. Someone was in custody. No, actually, it was just a person of interest. The person was in handcuffs at the scene. The person was being detained at a hospital. A bomb at the library was part of the same incident. The bomb at the library wasn’t a bomb, it was an explosion caused by a fire. On it went. Eventually I gave up and waited until I could read a printed newspaper the next morning. Funny, when it came down to putting ink on paper, most outlets decided to play it safe: Two confirmed dead, more than 100 injured, no official suspects.

I was always taught in my journalism classes that getting it right was more important than getting it first. The reporter who posts the first headline to Twitter and later finds out it was inaccurate doesn’t gain anything. The reporter who takes his time, carefully builds his story, and crafts a true narrative has much more to be proud of.

Bravo to news organizations yesterday who were hesitant to throw online facts they couldn’t confirm independently through reliable sources. I am a reporter at heart and I consume news as quickly as I can – but I am ashamed of my profession when I see reporters competing for the latest shocker headline in the wake of something as tragic as this.

Maria Servold
Maria Servold is the Assistant Director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College, where she teaches journalism and advises the student newspaper. She is a freelance writer for several Michigan publications.