So, now it is the morning after and more tiny details are creeping out about cell phone calls and arrests in Florida and etc. However, i won’t be linking the majority of this day two news, and i want to talk about the reasons why.
I am a student of Journalism and, while i lack a vast majority of the knowledge i will (hopefully) eventually be in possession of, i am both very aware and very critical of the dissemination of information in America. In fact, that is probably part of the reason that i am so continually interested and involved with personal publishing.
I am of the very concrete opinion that in a crisis of national importance the networks over-report the most basic and inconsequential of details and too often ignore the most basic facts of an investigation. What is excellent about obtaining breaking news online is that while news can be continually updated it doesn’t have to be continuously live. This means that the facts of a situation can continue to be present while the latest news can be appended to the top of the file.
Despite this fact, the major news outlets with normally reliable websites remained wholly ignorant of how to report such an important situation online. Simple facts like the time of impact were wholly absent from early versions of the story, and i had to view four different news services before piecing together my initial post with the NBC news photo.
I won’t touch upon the inadequacy of internet servers to handle crucial amounts of traffic because the situation became all-too-evident yesterday as CNN and MSNBC pitched all of their various bells and whistles overboard to save on bandwidth. I am primarily concerned with the way we report news, and what we report. Today coverage is focusing on individual families and acts of heroism, and this is totally appropriate and puts a human face on such a mind-boggling situation. However, in the early hours of a tragedy it is not what the general public most needs to initially see and hear.
Essentially, when an entire nation brings their focus to bear on a single state, city, or square block, the news media should be concerned with providing and maintaining an accurate narrative, correct and up-to-date statistics, and reliable eye witness reports. This does not include bringing in blood-thirsty “military experts” who are practically volunteering to deliver bombs themselves to “whoever” is responsible. It does not include repeatedly asking for the obviously unavailable casualty numbers throughout the early afternoon and into the evening. It does not include asking any and all New Yorkers to contribute yet another description of one of the airplanes’ impacts with the World Trade Center.
Human interest is definitely a point of any breaking news story, but my primary concern yesterday was to distill all of the news that had emerged so that anyone could see a single picture or read a single paragraph and glean important facts. The network coverage on ABC and MSNBC broke reports of the flight numbers and the names of the aircraft carriers shortly after noon yesterday, yet the flight numbers didn’t reach a rapid rotation in the coverage for well over an hour and this morning news outlets are reporting the presence of the aircraft carrier as though it slunk it under cover of night. There is a certain something to be said for continuously involving the viewer in the events so that they feel as though they are part of the journalistic process, but i find it disturbing that we have so few high-end news outlets in America when there is obviously a whole nation who are not hungry for death tolls or perpetrators, but who just want to know what is happening to their friends & family in other parts of the country.
Networks are afraid to cut away from coverage for any reason, and rightly so; there is always the chance of more breaking news and always a fresh viewer tuning in. However, not everyone wants a continuous feed of repetitive news, and that is why i turned on my computer at work before i turned on a radio or a television. As was pointed out by various sources yesterday, the internet is truly amazing because it is an entirely decentralized means of obtaining information, and it was this decentralization that provided the most important details as yesterday progressed. However, it is not unreasonable to expect a few reliable sources to be intermingled with this rush of facts from all sides, and i suppose i’m just surprised that the most consistently reliable source that i have found so far is not necessarily a formal news site, but the personally owned public forum at MetaFilter. Perhaps i simply need to change my ideas about a reliable source is, but i think that we all equally need to change our ideas about what we should be expecting from these sources.
I have no personal response to yesterday’s events yet because at the very root of me i am still numb about it all. However, just as yesterday morning my first instinct was to physically confirm news and then distribute it to my co-workers, my primary continuing concern is the inadequacy of some of the reporters and news services who we were relying on to inform us of the most basic details about this national emergency. I suppose in the face of such a disaster the only way i can feel like i have an impact on anything is to do this.