The U.S. media took a big hit last week in the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombers.
It was the worst time of all for the journalists to make serious mistakes — about whether the suspects had been apprehended, for instance — because the whole world was watching.
The recklessness is costly. Not only does it serve to misinform the world at such a sensitive time but it makes the public begin to have creeping doubts whether anything we report is actually true anymore.
When we get the information wrong at a time of grave public fear, as in Boston, how can they trust us to deliver such mundane news as the baseball scores or the stock market results? If only the world could be as simple as a Red Sox score!
The culprit is not really one network or another or a newspaper that dropped the ball. The real problem is the reality of 24/7 news. The cycle never stops or even lets up. The influx of websites and blogs has upped the ante, too. It used to be that a scoop had some kind of special lasting value. No more. Now it lasts only about as long as it takes for other news media to reprint the exclusive.
This pressure rattles journalists, even very good ones, and forces them to change their strategy. Now, there is less emphasis placed on getting two or three or four sources to confirm a story. If one person is willing to confirm, that's often good enough for the media company to go ahead and spread the word. If it is wrong, correct it — and no harm done! Not exactly, though.
When one journalist messes up the facts, do you know who gets blamed by the public? The entire profession!
Journalists must be especially vigilant at a time of nervousness. Boston underscored the importance of getting the big story right. But journalists should already know this, too — by heart.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Matrix blog for Indiewire.com. He is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)Invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution." Read more reports from Jon Friedman — Click Here Now.
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