In appreciation of a job well done covering the Boston Marathon bombings, the staff of the Chicago Tribune sent the Boston Globe pizza and a kind note.
Here’s a tweet from Jennifer Peter, the Metro Editor of the Boston Globe:
— Jennifer Peter (@GlobeJenPeter) April 22, 2013
And here’s the note the Trib reporters sent to the Globe reporters. Classy.
I know a lot of people gave the media flak for how it handled the coverage last week – especially CNN, even though CNN didn’t handle it any differently than the AP, for example (both had reported the bomber caught, when he wasn’t). But I think it’s easy to squawk from the outside about how “bad” the media is without fully appreciating how hard it is to cover a rapidly-changing story like this.
Yes, Pete Williams at NBC did a great job, but it would be interesting to look back on the week’s coverage, and at everything Williams reported, to see exactly what he got right, and what if anything he got wrong. Also, keep in mind, the rest of NBC was covering this story too, so perhaps Williams had the luxury of not reporting unconfirmed things because his colleagues would cover that base for him, thus making sure the 24 hour news cycle was satiated.
I’d also note that after everyone screamed at CNN, their coverage became awfully boring and stale. I stopped watching after that – CNN was my go-to network on this crisis before – I was watching up until everyone flipped out. After, CNN seems once-burned-twice-shy, I was getting better updates via Twitter, so I bolted.
The fact is, a lot of us were on Twitter “watching” the manhunt unfold, and it was pretty fascinating stuff. And some of it was true, while some of it was fale. In the true category was Reddit’s, apparently, crowd-sourcing of David Green’s Facebook photo which provided, at that point in time, the best photo we had yet of Suspect 2, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, leaving the scene of the bombing (rather calmly compared to everyone else who were clearly freaking out). This is just a small version of the photo – the original, which you can download, is much larger.
What if Reddit got that one wrong, the same way it apparently got the names of the bombers wrong? What if Reddit pulled its punches and didn’t discuss that Facebook photo, lest they be wrong? Then that best-photo-yet of the suspected terrorist may never have been discovered.
I, for example, uncovered something less significant, but still interesting – Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Russian Facebook-style home page (a number of media outlets have reported on this page now, not mentioning us of course :).
At that point, no one, to my knowledge, had yet found it, as his name had only just been released to the public. The page included a number of interesting things, including his ties to Chechnya (he’s fluent in Chechen, among other points in the profile), and his ties to Islam – neither was known at the time. The page also led me to other good photos of Dzhokhar, and to some of his friends. The page also showed that he had checked in at 9pm the night before using a mobile device, i.e., Thursday night right before the 7-11 robbery and the murder of the MIT cop (that couldn’t have proved useful to tracking him down). I researched what I could to confirm that this was real – including finding birthday elsewhere – and after being 99% convinced, I ran with it. I could have been wrong. But my gut, and my brain, told me it was real. But I could have been wrong. Should I not have run it? Are we only saying “yes, run it” after the fact because now we know it’s real?
Same thing with the Jeff Gannon story I covered way back in 2005. I got that story on a Thursday night, and didn’t run with it until Monday morning because I spent four days tracking it down, to make sure I was right. I could have been wrong – I didn’t think I was wrong, but there’s always that chance when you report news.
And I had 4 days to get my ducks in a row on Gannon. In this 24 hours news cycle, you don’t have any time until the other networks, other reporters, beat you to a story. That’s not an excuse for getting the story wrong, or being sloppy. But when CNN talks to trusted sources at DOJ, or wherever, and those trusted sources tell CNN “we got him,” what is CNN to do in the middle of a fast-breaking story – not tell anyone?
I think, in the end, I’d rather have CNN tell me the raw data they’re hearing, and tell that it’s not confirmed, tell me their sources – we have two trusted sources at DOJ, or whatever, who tell us this is true. And tell us that it’s still possible it isn’t true. And then we’ve had full information. I’d much prefer that to the CNN we got for much of the rest of the week, when they were so burned that they appeared to be pulling punches. That news coverage was boring, and I was getting far more information on Twitter, so I stopped watching. That’s hardly an incentive for CNN to “do better” the next time, if by “doing better” no one watches.