Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Litter on Twitter

    People who play reporter on Twitter will have to be more careful if the instant message system's performance during the Boston Marathon story is an example of journalism's future.  Two innocent men were identified erroneously as suspects in Twitter's rush to judgment, according to The Atlantic and James Temple, who writes the Dot-Commentary column for the San Francisco Chronicle.
    One of the fundamental rules of reporting - at least at the wire services - was "get it first, but first get it right." There were other standards that apply here, commandments such as "don't quote an anonymous source unless you can support it elsewhere." Basically, an anonymous source was a tip. And, of course, there was the "three source" rule, which was more broken than observed.
     The major league media didn't do all that well on this story either. Television network reporters often gave me facts without naming the source. Whatever happened to "according to...?" Some accounts I heard said three unexploded bombs were found. Later, this was jettisoned as false, but I was left to wonder where the report came from. Again, no attribution.
     In addition, the pressure cooker bombs were said to have been placed in "duffel bags." Later we were told the bombs were in backpacks. Once again there was no "according to." Reminded me of the "trench coats" the killers wore in the 1998  mass slayings at Columbine High in Colorado. The killers actually had on dusters, the long coats favored by Jesse James. I had the feeling that reporters today don't know anything about military gear, either coats or duffel bags.
     Sure, mistakes occurred in the past. As "Philip's Code" points out, stories were usually read by three people before they hit the wire and still errors could be made. The corrections that followed explained what had happened. Perhaps it is time to go back to the future.

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