In the minutes and hours following the Boston bombings, the media erupted with news, rumors, speculation – just what we’ve come to expect in this instant-access, instant-posting age. Truest to form was the knee-jerk maundering from the usual operators, who posted the rankest kind of rumors as fast as Twitter would permit. (No links to those, on purpose.) How do they live with themselves?

We’ve seen this again and again in recent times. Recall how a member of Congress was declared dead in the Tuscon shootings (by NPR and CNN, no less)? Recall the frothing BS that came immediately after the Newtown shootings? In retrospect, media creators — professionals and non-professionals alike — did some soul-searching after both of those.

It may be having an impact. After the Boston violence for the first time in my memory, I saw a knee-jerk response that moved in a gratifying direction: a host of cautions, including from media people, for all of us to wait for actual facts rather than rushing to judgment. These kinds of warnings were not unprecedented, of course – I and some others have been urging people to take a “slow news” approach in such situations – but I was struck by the large number I saw in the immediate aftermath of this event.

The Washington Post’s Eric Wemple cataloged some of the Twitter warnings. One of the best came from his colleague, Ezra Klein: “What we truly know right now is this is horrible. But be careful about retweeting things people think they know.”

I’ve been hearing this kind of thing lately from students, too. They know better than to believe what they hear and read, especially when it’s close in time to a major event. Slow news means taking a breath.

Of course, several hours later the media were looking for new news. I expect (and am already starting to see) a raft of speculation about suspects, motives, etc. It’s too much to ask news media to behave well for more than an hour or two. I’ll take that much, gladly.

Here’s one knee-jerk response we can almost guarantee, however. Law enforcement and national security people will seize on this to push their ongoing agenda to create a surveillance state where civil liberties are mostly a thing of the past.

My thoughts are with the victims and their families. Whatever we learn about who did this, much less why, let’s remember the human cost of this violence.

Meanwhile, as “consumers” of news, let’s recognize our individual obligation in these circumstances. Take a slow-news approach. Keep clicking the Refresh button in the browser. But wait for verified facts before you come to any conclusions.

(Corrected to fix misspelling of Eric Wemple’s name; ouch, sorry.)

10 Responses to “Slow News Catching On? Boston Tragedy Suggests So”
  1. Andrij O. says:

    Knee jerk reactions, promoting a surveillance state agenda to this tragedy would be bad – agreed.

    …just like knee jerk reactions to the Newtown, CT tragedy, promoting a gun control and anti- 2nd Ammendment agenda is bad…

  2. Given how many people were in these locations, with cellphones, taking pictures of everyone and everything around them, I suspect we’ll find there is plenty of surveillance to catch whoever did this.

    Little Brother. He’s never been at war with Eastasia.

    • Silona says:

      Hey Dana (long time no chat)

      I do feel very different about this event where so many citizens were taking photos that they can choose to submit or not versus the always-on red light cameras that are the gateway drug to a surveillance state.

      I can’t accurately state my emotional sense in regards to this. But permissions and the consensus of the people to release the content matters. Though considering much of this was done on sites like 4chan… I do still worry of mob rule, ss and such. Though I also desire a public that questions more what it reads, hears and sees. I think it has to do with explicit vs implicit permissions that are event driven…

  3. [...] news orgs separate themselves from more irresponsible ones. Journalism prof Dan Gillmor wondered if we’re starting to see a “slow news” mentality start to catch [...]

  4. [...] a recent post on the “slow news” concept, author Dan Gillmor cautions us to “wait for verified facts before you come to [...]

  5. Eva Buchman says:

    This brings to mind how citizen journalism is used in the news industry, but how important it is to vet the content a news organization receives before it hits the web and television. The Boston Bombing is a great example of this, because in the early hours after it, a photo began circulating of a student who could have potentially been seen at the finish line. Come to find out later, this person was a missing college student, and it was further revealed that he could have even been missing at the time of the bombing. While this is just one example, it’s a serious problem to consider. Many skeptics of citizen journalism make this exact point- how do we know if the user-generated content is real and not altered?

    If a news outlet uses a piece of user-generated content that turns out to be altered, false, or not what it appears, this can put their reputation in serious jeopardy. This makes it all the more important for every news organization to use some type of vetting process and not falling into the “heat of the moment” trap which could put their reputation on the line.

  6. […] circumspect news orgs separate themselves from more irresponsible ones. Journalism prof Dan Gillmor wondered if we’re starting to see a “slow news” mentality start to catch on…  […]

  7. […] struck me about Twitter the night of the bombings was the decibel level of the fact-checkers. As Dan Gilmor […]

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