Three’s a Crowd

Matt Purdue, Steve Cody and Ted
Birkhahn discuss the Boston Bombings, mainstream media coverage and the
disruptive force of Twitter on breaking news. If you have five minutes to kill
and have absolutely nothing better to do, please watch and let us know your
thoughts on the topic.


17 thoughts on “Three’s a Crowd

  1. I like your observation about the media’s maddening rush to be first, rather than right, Sam. It reminds me of the early dotcom companies who cared more about first mover status than a profitable business model. And, I agree about Twitter. It was never intended to be a news channel. My tweets about the horrific service on United Airlines and NJ Transit, respectively confirm my POV. If anything, they’re old news.

  2. Agreed with Jason here. Twitter is not a news platform. It can be. But that’s not its primary function. It’s a place to share snippets of information, passalong links, and share bits of commentary. In other words, it’s a place for all of us to circulate information. When journalists use the platform, they are–we assume–doing so as part of their reporting. But to conflate the activity of “the rest of us” as attempting to be journalists or news outlets is to fundamentally understand what motivates most people to use a platform like Twitter. Most people who were tweeting about the Boston bombings weren’t trying to compete with CNN. Sadly, though, CNN was trying to compete with them. And THAT’s the problem.
    What we’re seeing here is nothing new. People have always passed along info they’ve heard. Rumors have always spread, true or not. The difference is the frequency and the reach a platform like Twitter offers. CNN is never going to “break” news faster than a bystander who can share something with a tweet. But the difference is, the bystander is just sharing something unbelievable that just happened with them in most cases, not trying to “be a journalist.” When journalists quit trying to think of people using Twitter as competition and start thinking of them as potential sources of raw information to be vetted just as one would traditionally vet a rumor, etc., we’ll all be better off. But as long as journalists are trying to be “FIRST!” instead of right, we’ll continue to see this madness.

  3. I think you’re confusing two separate scenarios, I-Man. True, the media covering 9/11 were unencumbered by vigilante Tweeters. And, yes, they made mistakes in the fog of war. But, what transpired in Boston was dramatically different. Social enabled and self-appointed citizen journalists not only made mistakes BUT also wrongly accused a missing Brown University student as one of the bombing suspects. That sort of egregious mistake wouldn’t occur with professional journalists.

  4. I think that furthers my point. Twitter is not a news platform and never claimed to be. Second, I think plummet is a strong word to describe a 128 point drop (also, the market recovered just as quickly). There have been countless examples of odd things driving market fluctuations. So to use that to delegitimize Twitter is a bit extreme. Should we all stop using banks and deem them unsuitable to handle our everyday banking needs because they have been subjected to hacks?

  5. Jason, Twitter is just not ready for prime time as a legitimate, reliable news platform. When was the last time was hacked with a false story about the White House being bombed that sent US stock markets plummeting? Well, it happened just last week on Twitter…because that platform is just so vulnerable to false intel, both intentional and otherwise.
    Caveat tweetor — let the tweeter beware.

  6. Sorry, Matt. Still don’t think Twitter (or social media) is the culprit here. Sloppy journalism is sloppy journalism no matter how it is delivered to the public. These “Jounaltwits” can choose to report facts they verified or unsubstantiated rumors floating around Twitter. We’ve seen much needed criticism of people like John King and others that chose the unsubstantiated rumor route. What makes that so interesting is that it had nothing to do with social media. He just got bad intel from a trusted source. Kind of chips away at the social media is the problem argument. Which brings me to the next point – Twitter is a great equalizer. People that report false information, spread rumors, create fake accounts, etc. get cannibalized and their “reports” are widely discredited. So, again, I think these platforms do much more good than harm.

  7. I agree with half of what Scott says. I agree with his belief that a broadcast journalist who is forced to do hours of live shots with nothing new to say is very likely to speculate and interview talking heads who have no reservation about reporting unsubstantiated information that often turns out to be inaccurate.
    He also believes that the underbelly of social media actually ends up policing itself and therefore reports more accurate information in a time of crisis. I do not agree with him on this front at all.
    In a crisis, both mainstream media and social media are hampered by folks who care more about speed to market than getting things right. Until this changes, we will continue to be bombarded with rumors and misinformation during major breaking news events.
    In the end, it really is the print media who have the resources and ability to sift through the details and report the facts. In the case of the Boston bombing, this happened days after the crisis ended. The only question is this: at that point, has the damage already been done?

  8. Interesting that Scott’s POV is just the opposite of yours Matt. He mistrusts mainstream media and thinks the reporter doing a live shot with a talking head expert is more likely to stray far from the truth with wild speculation; whereas the underbelly of the social media sphere actually ends up policing itself and surfacing the unvarnished truth.
    I do agree with part of what he says. I think broadcast journos in a breaking news situation who are forced to do hours and hours of live shots with nothing new to say have a tendency to speculate and find others who are willing to reports misinformation without sourcing. This is what drives rating for these guys and they are guilty of it in every major breaking news story.
    However, the misinformation reporter by non-journalists over Twitter was just as unreliable and wrong as the crisis unfolded.
    In the end, it was the print media who took the time to sift through the details and report the facts. It took a few days but they got there. The only question is: at that point, did anyone care?

  9. My whole point is that unless “news” is factual, it is useless. Worst than useless, it is dangerous. In the case of the Boston crisis, possibly dangerous to first responders and the public, and, in general, dangerous to our democracy. The Boston crisis shows that Twitter is a comm’s platform that is unique in our history: now everyone from journalists to crazy people are compelled to immediately share what they see, hear and feel, and it is read by millions…whether accurate or not. And, sadly, legit news sources like the NY Times are using tweets as gospel. Last week, Journatwits were tweeting that the alleged bombers were from the Czech Republic…and they were believed. Sad…very sad.

  10. jason- great points.
    rep- my point is that twitter isnt the issue, its only the medium now being used to pass the info. on 9/11 it was cell phone calls and email and text that allowed reports to get out and before that it was landlines and smoke signals. point is that the broadcast media rarely, if ever, can put out accurate, verified info bc of the carch-22. if they wait to verify they are hours behind and if they dont verify we get false reports whether its from inof obtained from twitter, texts, smoke signals or sign language.
    print media has the luxury of sorting through facts and letting the dust settle before reporting, broadcast media doesn’t and never will.
    and by the way, just remember superstorm sandy- how many “verified reports” were there of the new york stock exchange under 5 feet of water????

  11. During the Boston bombings and its aftermath there were three kinds of people on Twitter:
    – Journalists tweeting news from their official account
    – Eyewitnesses at the scene describing what they had/are seening
    – The general public talking about the event and speculating
    Regardless of whether you were part of a crowd sourced investigation, you were still just a person talking about the event and speculating.
    I don’t think Twitter’s reputation as a communication platform took a hit during the bombings. How can it? Twitter is just a platform for people to say what they want to say. Our reputations, and that of supposed credible media organizations, took a hit for putting any level of credence in people just talking and speculating.

  12. Good discussion.
    I’m with Steve and Ted on Twournalism being here to stay. But here is something I think you guys missed in the discussion – I think that Twitter has actually improved how journalists cover breaking news and tell stories, and by association, how consumers receive news.
    Twitter users assuming the role of breaking the news are an amazing source/resource for reporters (broadcast, print, online, etc.). The videos, images and first-hand reports that get put out via Twitter are invaluable in that they allow journalists to take that information and go verify it (read: have leverage when approaching sources) and to tell better stories. Think of the Abbottabad raid and all of the first reports. They were from OBL’s neighbors who heard something strange going on. This led to the first pictures and videos of the downed helicopter and many of the great stories that the AP and others were able to write. You think the military would have handed this info to reporters if there weren’t pictures already floating around Twitter? These Twitter users led all of the reporters to the information and they picked it up from there.
    Same goes for Boston. Reporters are incapable of reporting on an event the second it happens, especially in these extreme cases. But would they have truly been able to capture the seriousness of the chase and shootout with the Tsarnaevs if the neighbors hadn’t posted photos and videos on Twitter? My answers is that we would have known a lot less about these events.

  13. I think you’re confusing two separate scenarios, I-Man. True, the media covering 9/11 were unencumbered by vigilante Tweeters. And, yes, they made mistakes in the fog of war. But, what transpired in Boston was dramatically different. Social enabled and self-appointed citizen journalists not only made mistakes BUT also wrongly accused a missing Brown University student as one of the bombing suspects. That sort of egregious mistake wouldn’t occur with professional journalists.

  14. i have to disagree with all of you here- this has nothing to do with twitter, and here is the proof. on 9/11 there was no twitter and yet if you watched any news broadcast or listened on the radio, you saw “reports” of the capital building being hit, fires at the white house, etc which we know wern’t true. yet every single station had those reports. and so it wasn’t twitter or even a social media “journalist”- it was as repman said, the media reporting anything and everything as soon as they heard it on the street or anywhere else. had any one of those media outlets bothered to verify any of those stories before reporting them, then they clearly wouldnt have reported them.
    twitter isnt the problem. its simply something to blame here for the real problem- the media and their baseless reporting for ratings.