Social Media Shows How The Media Failed Boston Bombings Coverage

shooting at MITSocial Media is waging another war on mainstream media as of 3:07 AM Monday, April 22nd, where one of the Twitter trend terms is “How The Media Failed” and for a moment right below it, and in the eighth spot was “Boston Bombing Coverage.”

The trend was caused by the webblog Mashable’s headline “How the Media Failed in Its Coverage of the Boston Bombings” where the post was tweeted out 1,104 times in one hour, thus causing the Twitter trend attack.

The post, written by Gideon Lichfield, lists the number of ways “the media got the story wrong” but really itself misses the mark. Watch and listen to my video blog, where I mention what media did incorrectly:

The point is that I make a distinction between the mainstream media, and social media. Where Gideon Lichfield is wrong is in failing to do that. He’s also wrong in saying it was a “battle for attention” – not so. It was a product of journalism’s habit of not using social media to check its own non-social media sources, coupled with an old media arrogance that says “my source is better than yours” when mainstream media can’t battle a machine that places social media close to the most reliable source of information: the Boston Police Officer.

The machine was the online police scanner called Boston Police, Fire and EMS Scanner, and it was the hero of the day. Listening to it turned the entire chase for Boston Bombing Suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into wee-hours reality media that threatened for a time to make the TV obsolete. People, like myself, discovered it via tweets from others on Twitter, like this one:

Or posts on Reddit, which was the other social media star.

CNN, MSNBC, FOX Tried To Correct, Failed

CNN’s John King got the worst of it Tuesday of last week, saying the suspects were “dark skinned” when, as it happened they were not. But MSNBC’s Chris Hayes then turned and devoted a show to blasting John King, which itself wasn’t cool. Not so, because on Wednesday, it was MANBC’s turn to face social media blasts because Hardball’s Chris Matthews made a comment that was, well, John King-like:

“To be blunt, and not to be getting into political profiling or racial profiling, but when you look at a picture that we’re looking at now, are there people in the FBI that can look at that picture, study it ethnographically and figure what the odds are on a fellow like that being from different parts of the world, say Yemen or any other parts like that? Can they figure it out by looking at a picture?”

What’s happening is we’re in a society where diversity is increasingly prized, so much so that one in the media or politics has to be careful not to ask questions or make statements that could seem to want to racially pidgeon-hole a crime suspect.

But I digress.

Social media, led by Twitter, provided a corrective layer of exchange that’s more than useful in big media events like the Boston Marathon Bombings. My feeling is this lays the groundwork for a new set of media apps – just how they will be designed is the question.

Lastly, I have to blast Gideon Lichfield for a writing a self-serving post.


An aside: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Quartz’s position in all this. As a global business publication with a small staff, we realized quickly that there was no point in competing with others on real-time updates, so we focused on finding original angles of our own. We were careful not to report as fact things that didn’t come from reliable sources. When we could, we corrected errors that others had made. We didn’t publish the goriest pictures. We did some things that I’m proud of. But on the charge of disproportionate coverage: guilty. At the end of the day, we’re in the same attention business as everyone else.

Come on, Gideon. You buried the lead.

Stay tuned.