Last week was a brutal week for America, and the 24-hour breaking news coverage didn’t help anything.
In the wake of the Boston bombings, the FBI were searching for suspects and the Internet and reporters were eager to help. This deed would not go unpunished, they said. But in the days following, three young men were falsely pinned as suspects and unfairly punished for a crime they didn’t commit.
This is a telling characteristic of the 24-hour news cycle. In order to beat the competition, news outlets have to break news first. But how can they beat the competition if the news they break is just a rumor?
Without confirming who these young male “suspects” were, news outlets cause irreparable harm to them. I won’t name these men, though the damage has already been done. One such “suspect” is a 17-year-old runner. Another was a 20-year-old student from the Boston area. The third has been missing for a month, and the accusations against him rose more pain for his family. Their families have been threatened, and they feel like they can’t leave their houses. When it was announced that these three weren’t actual suspects, the Internet continued to search for suspects, and many profiled for “dark-skinned” men, as if they were the only people who could have carried out the attack. The public might have carried out the discrimination, but the news outlets caused it.
One of the main issues with the various accusations was where the information about these “suspects” came from. Any respectable journalist should know by now that police scanners and Twitter are good sources for news tips, but you shouldn’t stop your reporting at a tip, like it is a proven fact. Follow up on information before you disseminate it. Considering how quickly the rumors of suspects arrested spread from news outlet to news outlet, these reporters obviously didn’t follow up with officials.
The news outlets that misreported that these men were suspects could be sued for libel, and honestly, I hope they are. These outlets have to be held accountable for their actions. Causing that kind of damage is unacceptable, regardless of whether you think someone fits a bombing suspect’s profile because they are “dark-skinned.”
Last week showed us that we in the news industry must be responsible when reporting. Journalists are supposed to do no harm. Yet when we report on three “suspects” without confirming with officials in one week, that is exactly what we do. To be fair, only a small percentage of the news that came out last week was reported poorly. If anything, the misreporting should be a lesson to reporters: even with your most trusted sources, verify what they say before you end up falsely accusing someone.
Contact CU Independent News Budget Editor Avalon Jacka at Avalon.email@example.com.