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Tucson Shootings and the News: The Frantic Race for Exclusivity

Posted in Information, life, news by alangustin on January 11, 2011

In our ever-increasing, “speed-of-life” pace to know what’s happening before it happens, our society has become reckless in its acceptance of — what I call — news splatter.

What has brought this to a head for me, was the recent shooting spree by the obviously deranged, Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson, Arizona. The shooting that resulted in the deaths of six people and the critical wounding of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was a horrible tradgedy.  But it was made even more horrible by the unprofessional reporting by several major news outlets, including NPR, Reuters, CNN and Fox, that Congresswoman Giffords had died.  What ensued was a veritable cornucopia of confusion and back-peddling, once it was determined that Giffords was still alive.  NPR issued an official apology, which should have included a disclaimer that stated, “We take no responsibility for those other news organizations who were so focused on scooping each other that they simply parroted our initial, erroneous report.”

The culture of the news industry has always included “being the first” to report a newsworthy event.   The news media morphed along technological lines.  It was required that they stay on top of advances in personal communications, such as radio, television, the world-wide-web, and lately, mobile devices.  Smart phones have literally changed the face of the news industry.  It is common these days to see a cellphone video included in a television news story.  And “reporters on the street” are recording events as they happen, and broadcasting the information on the Internet hours before anyone in the news media even hears about the event.  It’s amazing what is taking place in the world today, and how news is reaching people.

I was tweeting with my Android what I heard on my car radio the day of the Tucson shootings.  Something took over and compelled me to tweet each new development as I heard it reported on Fox News Radio.  I was driving,  and pulling over every thirty seconds to tweet the news as I heard it.  I was splattering unsubstantiated news reports left and right in a mad frenzy. Looking back, I realize how twisted that was.  But after thinking about it for a couple days, I realize what caused me to do it.

Something in us humans drives us to be “the first to know”.  And then… “the first to tell”.  Like the housewife in the supermarket checkout line who whispers to the person next to her, “Did you hear about Maggie Smith? She’s getting a divorce”. 

Maggie’s not really getting a divorce.  A neighbor overheard Maggie’s husband, George yelling at Maggie during an argument about burnt pancakes that morning. 

Gossip…  right?

What’s the difference between the gossip about Maggie, and the erroneous report by NPR that Congresswoman Giffords had died at the supermarket in Tucson?  Not much.  Unless you’re the family of Gabrielle Giffords. Gossip is almost always harmful.  Look at how fast gossip travels throughout a community.  It doesn’t matter how fuzzy the facts are, the gossip spreads faster than a viral YouTube video on meth.

The evening of the Tucson shootings, the Twittersphere was rife with tweets and links about the shooting, the shooter, the sheriff, the accomplice, the condition of Gabby Giffords, (I was sickened by Obama’s reference to Congresswoman Giffords as “Gabby”) …etcetera, etcetera…

What really tore me up though, was the subsequent barrage of cow manure that emanated from all news outlets from every corner of the country regarding the motive of the deranged killer, Jared Loughner.  The news media couldn’t get enough about the irresponsible statements being made by people whose desire for the limelight hobbled their ability to think before speaking.  Everyone was splattering everywhere.  It was disgusting.  And the news media couldn’t report it all fast enough.

At the start, I had been a willing participant in this ‘information orgy’ with my ‘uber-tweeting’.  Disgusting?  Perhaps.  Becoming the norm?  Definitely.  Soon, every wannabe journalist with a 5G, camera-equipped iPad will be broadcasting the end of the world as it happens.  In 3-D!

What remains to be seen, is whether or not this phenomenon of communications will self-regulate, and become a viable way for humans to be informed, or decay into an anarchistic, free-for-all that benefits only those whose desire for attention takes over all the bandwidth on the planet.

What will be the result of this parody of the press?  Only time will tell.  But consumers of the news, from now on, will have to deal with filtering what they get.  Either that, or simply relax and slow down…  give it a day or two before putting a nail in the coffin of any story.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alan Gustin. Alan Gustin said: Tucson Shootings and the News: The Frantic Race for Exclusivity: http://t.co/AZbGqmb […]


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