I’m a journalist, and I do my best to explain why and how things are happening to friends during times of crisis. When to be patient. Who to call. Out of yesterday’s horror, the bombing of the Boston Marathon, the injury and death of so many, I wanted to say something. Not off-list, as is often my way. But something that could maybe ripple out a little by being unrestricted to email, to share my thoughts, to hopefully in some way provide information or food for thought. Selfishly, this is also a way to process my feelings, and quell the residual panic left from last night, panic from waiting for the Twitters of my Boston friends to say “I’m okay.”
“Most of us will be tempted to treat each new fact as evidence for a particular conclusion. But there will be many facts, and different facts will point in different directions — all at the same time.” -Jim Walsh
Boston Marathon Bombings: They Picked On The Wrong City is for me, in some ways reminiscent of a much older piece. Walsh, who teaches at MIT, gives an honest assessment as someone who works with international security. That things will be confusing and difficult, that information will rapidly populate and refine in a simultaneous fashion. He says Boston will endure, and survive, and that its spirit will continue. But he says we need to think about what we’re hearing, particularly about how we cannot interpret new information as evidentiary support for our own theories. It’s worth a read. Promise.
“Because they found the bomb in time, the event is not laden with horror and sorrow. It denies us the spectacle of Kabuki mourning and vicarious grief. There will not be a president, head bowed at the memorial service, reassuring us that we are a great people and a great nation. There will be no statue at which people can stare and wonder how it could have possibly come to this.” -Charles P. Pierce
That’s from the piece I’m pairing with Walsh’s, and it’s about peace and hate and prepardness and the world we live in. It is about events here in Washington, my home state. It’s also about the events that didn’t happen that day. It is about the power of hate and the force of reason and acceptance. Homegrown Terrorism: The Bomb That Didn’t Go Off, is by Charles P. Pierce. It is worth reading.
Just one of the headlines in The Boston Globe this week. Of all the newsies in the world I send up a prayer for daily, they shot up the top last night. Their city, their streets, their friends and neighbors and the tourists who had been there, who love Boston and love to run. They have a special section right now, devoted to their coverage of the bombing and all that comes after.
Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki took many of the photos we saw on Monday, photos that will become heart breaking icons of this year’s marathon. He spoke to LightBox within hours of the bombs going off. This is the news asking someone else who works in the media, who has witnessed a traumatic event, to tell them what he saw. The essential lesson of news is someone saying “I was there. Let me tell you what I saw.” What he says will be difficult for some to read, as his descriptions are neither sugar-coated nor softened.
Please exercise emotional caution if descriptions or depictions of the events in Boston are upsetting. Some of these images may disturb you.
Even in the narrative of an event, there are simultaneous stories occurring.
Alexander Brian Arredondo, also known to the world before his name change (in honor of his deceased sons) as Carlos Arredondo, is a peace activist. He was there to hand out flags, and wound up saving the life of Jeff Bauman. Jeff was there to cheer for his girlfriend Erin.
The graphic photo of Arrendondo, rushing alongside Bauman, was everywhere on Monday. That photo was how his step-sister learned her sibling had been injured, and prompted her to call their father.
Jeff Bauman’s father saw that photo on Facebook.
In Grisly Image, a Father Sees His Son is as simple and accurate as a headline can get. This is Tim Rohan’s article on what happened to Jeff Bauman, and how his family learned of his injury, and about the man who saved his life. The image is quite graphic, so again, please exercise caution.
People debate the ethics of photos whenever news coverage is deemed by the public to be too graphic, insensitive, or overly intrusive. One of 2012′s exemplars of such photographic coverage was debated and quickly forgotten by the public. It was scrutinized by the press as journalists, photographers and editors discussed if it was ethical to have even taken the photo. Jeff Bercovici’s “New York Post’s Subway Death Photo: Was It Ethical Photojournalism?” and Cord Jefferson’s exceptionally and thorough “Would You Have Taken the Post Subway Photo?: Pulitzer-Winning Photographers Respond” are about a specific photo, run by a particular publication.
But the underlying debate on ethics, on duty as a human being versus responsibilities as a member of media, those things are vital parts of the conversation we are having. If you are not media, you need to be reading what the media says about itself, to each other, about ethics. Without that, you miss having a fully informed idea of the climate of news right now. I might call people who read news “readers,” but we’ve gone far past a passive top-down news delivery. You’re all a part of it now, whether you like it or not.
Erik Wemple at the Washington Post had a few words about the place we get so much news. “Boston explosions: Twitter acts as journalism’s ombudsman.” I’m serious about the “few words,”it’s a short piece. But he highlights things people keep saying. Why do we keep breaking all those guidelines, as a nation, that seem intuitive? To verify, to vet, to exercise caution? Because so much of our ethics are informed by social contracts. The social contracts of the internet and social media are changing, rapidly. We have new ways to fuck up, and we’re still learning. Doesn’t excuse anyone from fucking up, or being obligated to issue corrections and apologies. But that’s a bit of why. We’re living in “the future” as so many like to say, and ethics is still catching up.
Breaking News, a blog run by journalists all over the world, highly literate in social media and a paragon (bias mine, I’m a happy reader) of how to, well: break news. Their staff have touchstones of the breaking news experiences that follow them still. They did a piece about how they navigated the deafening chaos of the news surrounding the bombing at the marathon. It’s a layperson-friendly read. No jargon, no lexicon, just a clear explanation of how they tracked, reported and evaluated the news that day. There’s a saying about news, that you can be first, or you can do it right. They walk the line as well as anyone I can think of. Inside Breaking News: How we balance speed with rumor control.
Al Tompkins has a piece over at Poynter, “Covering what comes next in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon explosions.” It’s written for journalists, from someone else in the field. Even if you’re not a journalist, if you are convinced every journalist out there is Bad News, you can see the advice being given in the field. Good, solid advice. If you see news that follows it, boost it for all you’re worth. Good news won’t get made if no one sees it, recognizes it, and boosts the signal.
Josh Stearns ran some info over at his site in his piece “Verifying Social Media Content: The Best Links, Case Studies and Discussion.” It’s from last month, still plenty applicable. The tools in this list may seem like something for journalists, but this is usable and pertinent to the experiences of anyone with internet access and an interest in news. It doesn’t matter what your job is, you play a part in the ecosystem of media now. To navigate it with less frustration, and greater digital and media literacy, it’s a good start.
Anette Novak put in some short, powerful words of her own at her site, under “#82 – ethics codes.” Something she said I feel an intense need to highlight.
“It becomes blatantly clear that many people who publish themselves lack basic knowledge on media ethics. And yes, when you tweet you are a potential massmedia. As such you have power. But this must be followed by a responsibility.” -Annette Novak
You are all potential mass media. All of you.
Please let that sink in.
You are a part of journalism. You and you and you and you. I think objectivity is a myth. Impartiality, all but impossible. Judgement, too easy to pass. Whatever you take from this, from my thoughts, from your own. You are a part of journalism, and if a single thing about reporting has upset you this week, the week before, in months and decades past. We live in an age where you are a part of this strange and sometimes beautiful ecosystem. If you use the tools of journalists, and if we can share our language, our methodology, then you can exercise your power in this place with truthfulness, intelligence, compassion and tact.
You can help change the things that distress you, as a human being, as a reader, as a micro/macro facet of the very field I so love.
You are a part of journalism.