In rDigital News: Boston

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Rare is the story is so powerful that it drowns out nearly everything else. The bombing of the Boston Marathon and the aftermath and investigation is one such story, and dominates this week’s In rDigital News recap.

CNN, The New York Post and the increasing speed of news

At 2:49 p.m. EST, the Tweets started. Reports of an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, then another. Within the hour, all eyes had turned to the mayhem erupting on Boylston Street. In the initial wake, as both law enforcement and media organizations scrambled to sort out what was happening, reporting was cautious.

However, once the FBI dove into its massive investigation, traditional media outlets spent a week trying so desperately to keep up that verification, the supposed cornerstone of journalism, was often overlooked.

On Wednesday, CNN anchor John King reported that authorities had a suspect in custody, when, in fact, no suspect had been apprehended at all. The cable news provider was widely ridiculed for their inaccurate reporting and bumbling recovery, and the FBI even released a harsh memo scolding media outlets for unverified reporting. But they were not the only one’s who fumbled, as everyone tried to stay on top of what became a real-time news event.

The next morning, The New York Post one-upped CNN by running their now-infamous “Bag Men” front page, preemptively identifying two men as the suspects – neither of whom actually were.

What was behind this desperate sense of urgency? Well for one, the public was watching. And they were weighing in. Twitter has moved the news from a 24/7 cycle to “a 14,400 (cycle), which is how many seconds are in the course of a day, because it literally is a matter of seconds before you hear the news,” as Jesse Hirsh told rdigitaLIFE.

In this rapid, highly competitive news environment, journalists are tempted to forgo proper verification just so they can be first on a story. But if the cost of speed is accuracy and verification, is that trade-off really worth it? Or has the speed of our society and the need for instant gratification and information forced news organizations into a situation where they have to be fast to be competitive?

Reddit and the rise of the citizen investigator

Last week, Anonymous collaborated with the RCMP to help locate the alleged attacker in the tragic Rehtaeh Parson’s case.

This week, a Reddit forum dedicated to investigating Monday’s bombing made news when they claimed to identify one of the suspects as Sunil Tripathi, a Brown student who had been missing since late March.

Then, in the early hours of Friday morning, Tripathi’s name made its way across the Boston police scanner, being listened to by tens of thousands of people throughout the night, Redditors celebrated what they believed to be their successful investigation.

The only problem? It wasn’t him.

By the time most people were waking up on Friday morning, the suspects had been identified as Dzokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and a Reddit moderator apologized to the Tripathi family, already yearning for the return of their missing son.

Ramona on CTV News discussing Reddit's investigation
Ramona on CTV News discussing Reddit’s investigation

The mistake only added more fuel to the debate over the value of crowdsourced journalism and investigation, and whether the democratization of the tools for doing both is a net positive or not.

They may have made mistakes, but the collective is powerful: when it comes to the web, these are still the early days. As 14,400 becomes the new news cycle, and more people turn to places like reddit and Twitter for information, the ecosystem will grow, and as we’ve seen with Wikipedia, when the ecosystem gets big enough, the concerned citizens will counter balance the rogues in the crowd.

The good guys

This week on rdigitaLIFE, Jennifer Sertl spoke about rediscovering the value in being human. In amongst the horror of Monday afternoon were countless moments of bravery, selflessness and heroism.

Pictures splashed across social media showed former New England Patriots guard Joe Andruzzi carrying a woman to safety.

Carlos Arredondo, who lost one son to the Iraq War and another to suicide, was merely a bystander when the explosion went off. Like many spectators, he quickly became a medic, tying a tourniquet out of a torn sweater and pushing a man, his legs blown off beneath the knee, to safety

Comedian Patton Oswalt wrote a short post on Facebook drawing attention to the people “running TOWARDS the destruction to help out.” It was shared over a quarter of a million times.

rdigitaLIFE’s Ishani Nath recorded a video post for this week’s issue of CBC’s Generation Why, commenting on how these acts of kindness cut through the ugliness of this week, and Andrew Evans wrote about his experience covering a marathon, and the incredible people you meet there.


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