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The darkside of the digital era on news reporting: Boston hysteria

April 18, 2013

Media Hysteria



As an enormous advocate of ubiquitous, real-time information, the Boston terrorist attack has for me highlighted the light and shade of the digitally converged era.

The light: like never before, people are seeing photos of evidence collected from the scene within hours of it being found, stories of real people, graphics, video footage, and breaking updates by the minute. The police willingly overshare evidence because they know – 1) collectively we have a better chance to find the bad guys if everyone has the evidence, and 2) if they didn’t show it to people right away, the digital natives and conspiracy theorists among us would protest to no end that the government was hiding something from the people it sought to protect. I’ve never actually seen this kind of detailed sharing of evidence so quickly before – I mean, I knew what the bomb looked like 24 hours after it happened, and I live 16,000 kilometres away!

What I’ve witnessed over the last couple of days goes one step beyond the recent popular coverage of how Twitter and Facebook have become the source of real-time news. What we’ve seen happen since the Boston terrorist attack is the media trying to stay one step  ahead of the digital era by reporting everything, as quickly as possible lest they get beaten to the chase by some 14 year old kid with an iphone, a twitter handle, and a quest for 10 seconds of fame. And unfortunately that’s where we’ve learnt some hard lessons about breaking news journalism in 2013.

So convoluted have been the messages and ‘facts’ reported by different media outlets that this morning I heard several hundred media turned up at the courthouse to see the suspect Boston Police and the FBI had arrested overnight. The only problem was – there apparently wasn’t even a suspect yet. This only came to light when the attorney general Eric Holder himself put a stop to the misinformation being spread.

The best journalism is that which is well thought through, well researched, facts are verified and more often than not – it takes courage to find and tell that story. How the hell do you achieve that in an era of gratuitous need for real-time data? Real-time data means that each individual seeks to collect the data and do their own analysis of what is happening. We therefore end up with approximately 2 billions different points of view, all at once. We lose sight of the bigger picture and some of the factors that make good journalism and story-telling exactly that.

I’ll always continue to advocate technology that empowers people and connectivity, and delivers what we want when we want it. I sure hope for all of our sakes though that the editorial masterminds that are still out there somewhere find a way to do better in the converged era. For now, I’ll wait until next week’s edition of The Economist comes out to understand what’s really happening.

Deliriant Isti Romani – These Romans are Crazy!

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