Op-Ed: Coverage of the Boston bombings is irresponsible

As reports came in of an explosion near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, people were shocked. Instantly, reports from various news outlets began pouring in and people were glued to their TVs, phones and computers, desperate for updates.  Information spread via word of mouth and text messages as the public scrambled to understand what had just happened. People were desperate for information regarding their loved ones, and relied on journalists to uncover new pieces of information as the situation developed.

However, the reporting done by the major news outlets was reckless, seemingly seeking to sensationalize on an already sensational story. Many news outlets referred to the explosions as bombings before any concrete evidence had been found. Reports of a third bomb poured in, but this would later prove to a completely unrelated fire at the JFK Library.

The New York Post reported that a Saudi man was being treated as a suspect and was under surveillance. In reality, he was merely a spectator injured in the blast who was being treated at a local hospital. The Boston PD denied the report, stating “We haven’t been notified of any arrests or anyone apprehended.” The Boston Globe also reported a similar story, which was denied again by the Boston Police.

We live in an era of constant communication and a steady stream of information. I understand that there is the “fog of war” argument, where information can sometimes be released before all the facts are verified and there is confusion regarding the scene. However, this is not a valid excuse when the false information that is released in a news bulletin could have easily been verified by a quick phone call or internet search. There is a distinct difference between releasing information that a journalist believes to be true (i.e., verified by an official source or eyewitness account) and that information later needing to be retracted or corrected, and publishing false information that has little evidence or verification.

The Washington Post later released an article that I felt showed a complete lack of remorse or respect for the SPJ Code of Ethics. The article, “Mistakes in news reporting happen, but do they matter? basically explained that in today’s era of instant information, any error made in reporting, even by a major conglomerates, really has no lasting impact because corrections can be later made and sent out immediately to hundreds of readers.

As a student just starting out in the field of journalism, that article made me feel sick to my stomach. The article relied far too heavily on new information spreading out quickly to the masses, but failed to account for the old unreliable information also traveling just as quickly. There is no justification for how poorly this story was covered, and I hope that in the future, journalists will look to this past week’s failure as an example of what not to do. I know I will.

Do you think the Boston bombings were covered in a fair manner? Why or why not? Share your responses below!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/mistakes-in-news-reporting-happen-but-do-they-matter/2013/04/19/c89fbf6a-a926-11e2-a8e2-5b98cb59187f_story.html



Categories: Opinion

3 replies

  1. It’s hard to be accurate AND have the most current coverage in our technology-infested world in which instant updates are not just possible, but expected. I think minor mistakes in reporting in the midst of a developing situation are to be expected, and they tend to get ironed out and corrected over the next few days as the situation stabilizes anyways. While it’s certainly not good that respectable news organizations like The New York Post and The Washington Post are printing mistakes, I think they should be applauded for covering this stressful, breaking story as well as they did, with much more accuracy than millions of vigilante “citizen journalists” on Twitter. Just my $.02!

  2. I’m not sure if traumatizing the family of Sunil Tripathi, who went missing before the bombings, was falsely identified as a possible suspect, and then later found dead, counts as a “minor mistake.” Falsely accusing someone of an act this atrocious is pretty inexcusable in my mind.

  3. Alison-
    I completely agree that mistakes happen. If they didn’t, editors would not have jobs. And I would never encourage vigilante journalism from people who have no one to answer to in these situations, and just clutter the airways with inaccuracy and mere guesses.
    I think what Kayleigh is saying, and what I would agree with, is that there is a line between hasty coverage and downright lies. What The New York Post reported was not just a mistake about how many people were killed, but fabricated information about a potential suspect. In these high stress situations, when tempers are high, that kind of information can mean the difference between life and death.
    And then for The Washington Post to publish no less than a vindication of journalistic errors in breaking news situations is more than a little disturbing. We should be encouraging journalists to be nothing but accurate. Sure, mistakes happen, but journalists HAVE to take responsibility for these mistakes, not shrug them off. There needs to be a higher standard for news outlets who can hide behind a logo, or they are no better than the “vigilante ‘citizen journalists'”.

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