Why the brokenness of breaking news probably won’t ever be fixed


From The A.V. Club:

The hunt for the Boston Marathon bombers became an interesting test case in the successes and failures of the ways we consume our news. TV, print, and Internet media conglomerates all had major, notable failures, and they all stem from the fact that in a case like this, where there is no obvious suspect and the public longs for someone to blame, there will always be an army of people looking for a signal in the noise. The central tension in reporting the news has always been between getting the information quickly and getting the information accurately. The high-profile burns always involve news outlets that push too quickly and report bad information, but the only time anyone applauds a news organization that holds out on “confirmed” information, it’s when that news organization turns out to be right for withholding it. Those who end up being wrong just look too cautious, as if they’re getting too easily beaten.

Throughout the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings—and particularly as CNN spent the past week flailing about as it detailed the search for a suspect—there seemed to be an unstated competition between Internet-based services like Twitter and Reddit and the cable news channels. The idea was that as the cable news channels attempted to fill space with fatuous blather, online was where one could get the real story, from either local Boston reporters working the police beat or quick-witted amateur gumshoes combing through footage of the marathon finish line pre-bombing. This in some ways explains why the idea of the missing man being one of the bombers struck such a chord: It was the ultimate vindication of the online-sleuth method, no matter how many other innocent people had been implicated.

Of course, everyone ended up with egg on their faces. The tools that make both TV and Internet news so powerful blew up in the face of a crime that could only be solved via the usual diligent investigative work. This underlined more than ever that 24-hour cable news and social media-driven Internet journalism/investigations are all too often the exact same thing: an attempt to throw information out into a void to see what will happen next.

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