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Adam Kingsmith

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Boston Bombing Showed the Break in "Breaking News"

Posted: 04/23/2013 5:00 pm

"I like my news right, not fast," wrote Huffington Post Canada Blogs Editor Angelina Chapin last week.

What Chapin is touching on here is an unsettling new practice sweeping the ranks of major mainstream media outlets -- scooping the news instead of vetting the facts.

For in a recent attempt to keep up with rabid Internet speculation, supposedly "professional" media channels including The Associated Press, CNN, The New York Post, Fox News, and The Boston Globe, have all inaccurately reported major aspects of the various stories continuing to unfold in the aftermath of the Boston bombings.

Unsurprisingly, the frequent mishaps from the past week are by no means the first instances of "trusted" media outlets misreporting critical parts of a major story.

In 1948, The Chicago Tribune mistakenly declared Thomas Dewey the winner of that year's presidential election. After the 1981 Reagan assassination attempt, multiple news networks wrongly announced his spokesperson -- James Brady, to have been killed in the crossfire. And in 2000, CNN infamously miscalculated Florida's vote count -- reporting a win for the Democrats and Al Gore in the presidential election.

But people make mistakes -- it's understandable that even the titans of media let the occasional error slip through their rigorous screening processes. Yet the problem -- for the media anyways, is the advent of user-driven reporting via the Internet has drastically reduced the news cycle from a matter of hours to a matter of seconds.

And in a misguided attempt to keep pace with the simultaneous chatter and speculation running rampant on content-aggregated social media sites such as Reddit and Twitter, more traditional media outlets are giving themselves less time to thoroughly scrutinise the facts behind a story before pushing it through to posting.

Expectedly, this "journalism by rat race" is resulting in a dramatic decline in quality, earnestness, and the general investigative ethos of the content currently being peddled by the daily newspapers, 24-hour television networks, and subsequent online subsidiaries which have come to define the conventional media landscape.

Of course, the news has never been -- and will never be, perfect. Information collected and interpreted by people will always reflect their own inherent subjectivities and partialities. But the decay we are presently witnessing is much more concerning than a mere, unavoidable media bias -- it is lazy, impulsive, sensationalistic journalism.

Just look at the media's disconcerting track record as of late. Since the rise of real-time amateur reporting on the Web has effectively eroded the media's longstanding monopoly over what information constitutes the news, reporting errors have reached their highest level in the 70 years that journalistic statistics have been collected.

In 2011, NPR, CBS, and Reuters all misreported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords died in an assassination attempt. In June 2012, CNN and Fox News wrongly declared that the US Supreme Court found the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to be unconstitutional, and in the Newtown shootings later the same year, countless news agencies misidentified the shooter and mixed up who was on staff in the school.

As for Boston, The New York Post ran two innocent men on the cover as suspects in the bombing, the usual offenders jumped the gun by reporting that there had been an arrest, and CNN took the cake for what may very well be the most embarrassing and sensationalistic hour of televised network journalism in recent media memory.

So if the past few years of melodramatic reporting, non-existent fact-checking, and informational apathy have taught us anything, it's that the days of mainstream media as an institution of sober-second thought and critical reflection are over -- no wonder just 25% of those recently surveyed by the Pew Research Center said that news organizations get their facts straight, while 66% said stories are "often inaccurate."

Thanks to that incessant need to keep up with the pitfalls and pandering found in social media reporting, the line between an informed media and the speculative masses has effectively disappeared -- now they're almost one and the same. And if professional reporters are not even going to take responsibility for redacting errors and running corrections, what makes them any different from fallible citizen journalists?

Obviously amateur social media reporting isn't perfect, far from it -- I've written an entire piece dedicated to uncovering some censoring pitfalls of user-driven content-aggregating websites, but the big difference is that the majority of users tend to take what they read from unprofessional sources on the Internet with a grain of salt -- something many of us still don't do when it comes to claims made by "expert" media.

Unfortunately, as Boston has reminded us, it seems that same salinization must now be applied to the big dogs. It's not that amateur sources on Twitter and Reddit have become more reliable than say CNN or The Associated Press -- unless perhaps said amateur is tweeting on location -- it's that the two have become indistinguishable.

As the majority of major media have decided to trade in diligence for speed, there is no longer a guarantee that the conclusions made by a career reporter tweeting from a news room will reflect a well thought out, well researched, critically reflexive point of view -- his or her thoughts may be just as zealous and fanatical as the rest of ours.

And that's fine. With the advent of the Internet, the curation of the news has become more of a conversation that a lecture. All the pitfalls of stitching together a story -- the theories, leads, mistakes, hunches, verifications, and conclusions are all out in the open in real-time, as opposed to dead on the nightly news' cutting room floor.

I for one prefer it this way -- the benefits of seeing how a story comes together far outweigh the negatives.

But with great informational access, comes great sceptical responsibility. This means think before you re-tweet, pause before you assume, and above all, examine claims by everyone from CNN lead anchor Wolf Blitzer to this amateur commentator through a rose-coloured lens of informed and guarded cynicism.

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  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    BOSTON - APRIL 15: Police officers with their guns drawn hear the second explosion down the street. The first explosion knocked down a runner at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A woman kneels and prays at the scene of the first explosion on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    The marathon finish line bridge is seen on Boylston Street on April 16, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. on April 16, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Security is especially tight in the city of Boston after two explosions went off near the finish of the Marathon, killing three people and injuring at least 141 others. (Darren McCollester / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    In this photo provided by The Daily Free Press and Kenshin Okubo, people react to an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (Kenshin Okubo / The Daily Free Press / AP)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Newspapers are on sale at a stand on Newbury Street on April 16, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Security is especially tight in the city of Boston after two explosions went off near the finish of the Marathon, killing three people and injuring at least 141 others. Darren McCollester / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A runner reacts near Kenmore Square after two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Alex Trautwig / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Officials react as the first explosion goes off on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Bombings

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Boston Police look at blown out windows at the scene of the first explosion on Boylston Street near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Unclaimed finish line bags are viewed near the scene of a twin bombing at the Boston Marathon, on April 16, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Three people are confirmed dead and at least 141 injured after the explosions went off near the finish line of the marathon yesterday. The bombings at the 116-year-old Boston race, resulted in heightened security across the nation with cancellations of many professional sporting events as authorities search for a motive to the violence. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A heavily armed Boston police officer (R) and a National Guard soldier (L) stands guard in front of the Taj Hotel April 16, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts, in the aftermath of two explosions that struck near the finish line of the Boston Marathon April 15. A massive probe was underway Tuesday after two bombs struck the Boston Marathon, killing at least three and wounding more than 100. Monday's blasts near the finishing line raised fears of a terrorist attack more than a decade after nearly 3,000 people were killed in suicide airliner strikes on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. US President Barack Obama went on national television to warn against "jumping to conclusions" but a senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said such an attack was "clearly an act of terror." (Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    In this image from video provided by WBZ TV, spectators and runners run from what was described as twin explosions that shook the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Monday, April 15, 2013, in Boston. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/WBZTV) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Police officers with their guns drawn hear the second explosion down the street. The first explosion knocked down a runner at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    BOSTON - APRIL 15: Two officials run away from the first explosion, right, on Boylston Street at the 177th Boston Marathon, April 15, 2013. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Bombings

    Karen Kaye, right, communications and community relations director for Big Peach Running Co., embraces Reginald Bohannon, of Atlanta, before the start of an organized moment of silence and memorial run to show solidarity with victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, Tuesday, April 16, 2013, in Atlanta. The explosions Monday afternoon killed at least three people and injured more than 140. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Carlos Arredondo, who was at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon when two explosives detonated, leaves the scene on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 28 injured after at least two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Darren McCollester / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Emergency workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A Boston police officer clears Boylston Street following an explosion at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria at the finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Boston Marathon Bombings

    One of the blast sites on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon is investigated by two people in protective suits in the wake of two blasts in Boston Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    There was smoke and panic in the street as emergency personnel responded to the scene after two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Karen Kaye, right, communications and community relations director for Big Peach Running Co., embraces Reginald Bohannon, of Atlanta, before the start of an organized moment of silence and memorial run to show solidarity with victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, Tuesday, April 16, 2013, in Atlanta. The explosions Monday afternoon killed at least three people and injured more than 140. (David Goldman / AP)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    BOSTON - APRIL 15: Emergency personnel respond to the scene after two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    BOSTON - APRIL 15: Two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Medical workers wheel the injured across the finish line during the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A second explosion goes off (rear) as a runner was blown to the ground by the first explosion near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    First responders rush to where two explosions occurred along the final stretch of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., on Monday, April 15, 2013. Two powerful explosions rocked the finish line area of the Boston Marathon near Copley Square and police said many people were injured. (Kelvin Ma / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    First responders rush to where two explosions occurred along the final stretch of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., on Monday, April 15, 2013. Two powerful explosions rocked the finish line area of the Boston Marathon near Copley Square and police said many people were injured. (Kelvin Ma / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Bombings

    Firefighters tend to a man following an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line Monday killing at least two people injuring dozens. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Runners and spectators flee from the scene where two explosions occurred along the final stretch of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., on Monday, April 15, 2013. Two powerful explosions rocked the finish line area of the Boston Marathon near Copley Square and police said many people were injured. (Kelvin Ma / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    First responders tend to the wounded where two explosions occurred along the final stretch of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., on Monday, April 15, 2013. Two powerful explosions rocked the finish line area of the Boston Marathon near Copley Square and police said many people were injured. (Kelvin Ma / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A runner embraces another woman near Kenmore Square after two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Alex Trautwig / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Massachusetts State Police guard an area near Kenmore Square after two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Alex Trautwig / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Police and runners stand near Kenmore Square after two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 28 injured after at least two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (PAlex Trautwig / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A woman looks at the blood on her hands as she is loaded into an ambulance after being injured after two bombs exploded on the marathon route on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Jim Rogash / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    In this photo provided by The Daily Free Press and Kenshin Okubo, people assist an injured after an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (Kenshin Okubo / The Daily Free Press / AP)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    In this photo provided by The Daily Free Press and Kenshin Okubo, people help an injured person after an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (Kenshin Okubo / The Daily Free Press / AP)

  • Boston Marathon Bombings

  • Boston Marathon Bombings

    Investigators shine flashlights at one of the blast sites on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon in the wake of two blasts in Boston Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    In this handout provided by the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama (L) talks on the phone with FBI Director Robert Mueller to receive an update on the explosions that occurred in Boston, in the Oval Office of the White House, April 15, 2013 in Washinton, DC. Seated with the President are Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Pete Souza / The White House / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Beacon Street near Kenmore Square remains empty for the use of emergency vehicles after two explosive devices detonated at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Alex Trautwig / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Bombings

    Boston police officers keep a perimeter secure in Boston's Copley Square, Tuesday, April 16, 2013 as an investigation continues into the bomb blasts at the finish area of the Boston Marathon which killed 3 and injured over 140 people. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • Boston Marathon Bombing

  • Boston Marathon Bombings

  • Boston Marathon Bombings

    In this image from video provided by Ryan Hoyme, the second explosion can be seen in the distance as smoke from the first explosion surrounds spectators exiting the stands during the Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Ryan Hoyme)

  • Boston Marathon Bombings

  • Boston Marathon Bombings

 

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