Boston Suspects Caught, Media Still Searching For Clues

Last week’s events in Boston were horrific, and while the criminals are now dead and caught, our nerves are frayed. People are upset and frightened. People want answers and justice.

Naturally, the media — traditional and social — is at the center of this storm. When I did watch CNN last week, it was a train wreck. When I looked at Twitter, the frenzy was palpable and the virtual posse in full force.

Over the weekend, I read several articles about the Boston bombings, gun control and media failures in the wake of important breaking news. I also participated in Facebook threads where emotions mixed uncomfortably with reason.

Unlike this Seattle Times headline writer, I do not agree that we are all journalists now. That’s like saying we are all chefs now (just because the tools exist to make great food).

Journalists go to great lengths to explain things in detail and to provide context and meaning. By this standard, very few journalists were working the story in Boston last week. A talking head on CNN checking his cell phone for updates is crap TV and bad journalism. People Tweeting out every word they hear on the Boston police scanner is not journalism, nor is it smart.

What I saw on Twitter last week was mostly a genuine effort to spread information that would lead to a capture. But the line between doing a good deed and wanting to help, and being a pawn in someone else’s game, is a thin line indeed.

In days gone by, journalists had time to think, to process the events unfolding in front of them. Now, that window is closed. It’s post first and ask questions later in a race to what end?

Mark Little, CEO at Storyful, believes the race to break a story is missing the point today.

Social journalism celebrates the notion of authenticity over speed, collaboration over competition. The news reporter’s primary rival today is not another reporter but the searing intimacy of online testimony and imagery. We must make our peace with that.

‘True Journalism’ has never been so valuable. We still need the Ernie Pyles on the scene, taking their time to find the defining detail. But we also need a new category of reporter, responsible for finding the hidden signal in the noise. We desperately need skilled professionals who can turn isolated units of social content into compelling stories, who can shape the narrative emerging out of the cacophony of conversation flowing through the social web.

“Authenticity over speed, collaboration over competition.” There’s a mantra for a new age.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.