Spokespeople announced Wednesday that they had possible security footage of suspects dropping what might have been the Boston Marathon bomb. Some outlets reported the sparse facts, but exuberant CNN reporters rushed to announce that police had arrested... somebody. (As of this writing, no arrests have been made.) To their credit, they quickly walked that report back. But not quickly enough to stem inevitable, and richly deserved, criticism.
Then it got weird. After initial reports of CNN’s hasty stew, other news outlets reported on those secondary reports. Salon.com
embarassed itself by reporting on the reports of CNN’s wrong report,
following a two-paragraph article with no less than seventeen
screen-grabs of other people’s Twitter cynicism. This circularity became
very “meta,” less like reportage than like somebody’s plagiarized
representatives have praised advances in digital technology for opening
new investigative opportunities in this crisis. From CCTV security
cameras to news footage to camcorders on smartphones, they must surely
have thousands of hours of footage on a single explosion. No herky-jerky
Zapruder film for these investigators. But the digital technology
clarifying the event for police only serves to cloud it for everybody
websites, blogs, streaming news feeds, cable channels, Twitter, Reddit,
and other sources barrage us daily with news on this and other
tragedies, creating content far faster than they uncover information.
The same news gets repackaged, tranched, examined through partisan
lenses, and resold as though such handling makes it fresh. While Boston,
and the nation, strive to savvy this new tragedy, “news” outlets
relentlessly pick at the scabs.
our digital age, the 24-hour news cycle has permitted audiences to
wallow in a constant welter of information. But it has also created the
demand for content to fill that time, regardless of whether new
information has entered the cycle. Watching Fox News and MSNBC’s Chris
Matthews compete yesterday to outshine each other in naked xenophobic
nationalism, audiences couldn’t help realize how intellectually and
morally vacant our media has become.
American newspapers continue their slow collapse. Outlets like Forbes
and Newsweek, once the gold standard of solid reportage, have become
tawdry blog platforms, and if the print editions still exist, they are
mere shells of their former glory. Journalism critics call on surviving
newspapers to salvage themselves by becoming “hyperlocal,” in essence
surrendering national coverage to the websites and cable channels now
covering Boston so poorly.
say: No! No, American newspapers, do not butcher the mainstays of
journalism that once made America the bastion of informed democracy! We
as a nation do not long for cheaper, shorter, less detailed coverage of
events. We do not complain that our news coverage is insufficiently
patronizing, or fear that reporters show us too much respect. We do not
want TV editorialists and the interwebs setting the tone in this
country. We do not!
tedious all-day Boston coverage, in which incremental advances get
mistaken for the recovery of the Rosetta Stone, demonstrate why we still
need old-fashioned journalism. As Neil Postman reported nearly thirty
years ago in Amusing Ourselves to Death,
television does its best work disseminating lowbrow content. It does an
overwhelmingly poor job spreading high art or in-depth reportage. The
Web goes even further.
have known since at least the 1960s that TV news doesn’t covering news
well. Transcripts of the evening network news wouldn’t fill half a page
in most urban newspapers. Though websites have more content, they don’t
encourage deep reading. According to Wired magazine and the New England Journal of Medicine, research indicates people reading online seldom finish an article (even this one), and retain little once they click away.
fairness, newspapers, with their hours-long lead times and fixed
formats, cannot compete with TV or the Internet on breaking spot news.
Sudden sweeping developments can happen at any hour, and newspapers can
only rush out so many editions per day. But we must not mistake breaking
news, important as it is, for actual journalism. That would be like
mistaking a first draft, jotted on loose-leaf paper, for the the hit
song it eventually becomes.
once depended on journalists to unpack complex relationships, eavesdrop
on backroom log-rolling sessions, and generally tease truth out of raw
data. Now, “reporters” barrage us with vast quantities of
undifferentiated information, letting us draw conclusions for which
we’re largely unqualified. If you feel more confused than enlightened by
the coverage in Boston, you’re not alone. We know more about current
events than ever, while we understand far, far less.
On a related topic:
Breaking News—Media Wastes Nation's Time With Worthless Fake Story