Thursday, November 16, 2006

24 hour news (sort of)

Two recent stories, one local and one national, highlight a growing concern of mine. Last month, Yankee’s pitcher Cory Lidle flew his plane into a high-rise building in NYC. From the initial coverage of the incident/accident, a viewer might have easily formed the impression that terrorists had struck again.

Closer to home, a local teen was transported to the hospital after an explosion in his family’s garage. The initial press release from authorities referred to a pipe bomb and subsequent communications mentioned four other bombs under construction. TV, web and radio news raised concerns about another Columbine or a local homegrown terrorists. When the figurative smoke disbursed, a story about a young, mechanically inclined teenager, most likely ‘souping up’ his potato gun or building an explosive device to try out on his paint ball range emerged from the confusion.

In both situations, the press rushed to cover the story and made a number of assumptions or outlined possible cases that had nothing to do with reality. In the rush to be first, the actual story was lost in the drive to air information, any information. There are many proponents of the 24 hour news cycle and the wide availability of news. The problem is that more often than not, the initial coverage does not shed much light on a story, in fact it can spread confusion. One of the advantages of a newspaper is that time must pass between collecting information, writing a story and taking photographs, printing the newspaper. There is time for thought, reflection and analysis as well as time for the full story to take shape.

I am not opposed to web, TV or internet news that goes out into the field and starts reporting. I am merely advocating for a realization of the dangers of speed, what can lost in the rush and some of the advantages of not over hyping a story until the full extent of the situation can be analyzed. I have rushed off to many fires that turned out to be stove fires, accidents that are nothing more than fender benders and I am not saying don’t go; but don’t be afraid to say ‘This is not really a story,’ after you get there and do some actual reporting.

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