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Monday, April 14, 2014

Lessons For News Media After Marathon Bombings

One memorable moment in the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing was an erroneous report by CNN and others, two days after the bombing, that an arrest had been made.  (Screenshot from CNN)

One memorable moment in the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing was an erroneous report by CNN and others, two days after the bombing, that an arrest had been made. (Screenshot from CNN)

What did news media get wrong while covering the Boston Marathon and what lessons does that crisis offer for future live breaking news coverage?

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson discusses those questions with Deborah Becker, senior correspondent and host at WBUR, and Scott Helman, reporter and editor at the Boston Globe.

Interview Highlights

On how to know what information to trust in a breaking news situation

Scott Helman:

“I think it’s very difficult, I will add that in full disclosure I think the Globe was one of the news outlets that had information about that allegedly arrest as well. And I know we put it out there briefly. So I mean I think everybody in general performed very well in those chaotic days and hours after the bombing. But there was a lot of things that people got wrong. And you know, it’s so difficult because in that situation people turn to these trusted news sources because they were so panicked, that feeling of anxiety because we didn’t know at that point, was there one bomber, two bombers, were there 10? We had no idea that the extent of it and I think having to be that sort of voice of reason but also get that information out to people very quickly is so difficult.”

Deborah Becker:

“I was actually at the Weston Hotel that day and so the officials there were supposed to hold a press conference but kept pushing it back. And they said we’re having a press conference at 1, nope it’s gonna be at 2, nope its gonna be at 2:30, nope, and they just kept pushing it back. And there were planes surrounding the federal court house, there were boats coming in, everybody thought that there was an arrest and someone was going to be brought into the federal courthouse and be charged with the bombings. So it was just wild speculation. I think the big lesson from that is, you know, watch how fear can sort of fuel all of these things, and anxiety. And there was a little snip-it of a report here, and a little snip-it of a report there and you can’t necessarily put those threads together and make a narrative.

On whether media outlets need to change their crisis reporting policies

Scott Helman:

“I think there’s more awareness about this than there is in years past, in part because some of the disastrous election nights that we’ve had. I think you’ve seen this tremendous rush, everybody wants to be the first one to say he won Florida or he didn’t Florida or whatever. And so I do think there’s a little more consciousness about this. But still, I don’t know in some sense if it’s totally fixable because there’s always going to be that desire to be first and to be that one that everyone turns to and then we kind of lionize those news outlets and those reporters who do get it right afterward, and we say ‘Deb Becker was the first one to report that.’ So I don’t know if it is totally something that can be repaired completely.”

Deborah Becker:

“Right, but I do have to say, I just did a story about preparedness and how folks are preparing for this year’s marathon, and I’m surprised at these preparedness plans for crises. And we really don’t have them, quite honestly, and I think it’s a good idea to sort of tell journalists, look, you know, this is a checklist of what might be beneficial, and these are the lessons that we did learn from the marathon bombings, of what we should do and how we should verify, who we should trust.”


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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