by Michael O'Neill
April 30th, 2013

During the horrific week of the Boston Marathon bombings – where the news seem to fly faster than even Twitter – one thing stuck out like a sore thumb:

The mainstream media remains the best place to get accurate news.

Despite all the cuts, all the closings and the sorry economic state of the mainstream media, it continues to be more reliable and professional than online upstarts and citizen journalists. Organisations like WBUR, NPR, the New York Times and The Atlantic deserve to be called out for responsible and informative reporting of the Boston bombings and subsequent manhunt for the suspects.

That’s not to say the damage done to the mainstream media the last few years – and certainly the ugly spectacle of watching news organisations desperately trying to compete with social media channels – didn’t lead to a lot of preventable and unfortunate mistakes.

There were some awful reporting decisions made by CNN, the Associated Press and the Boston Globe, especially when all three reported that an arrest had been made the day after the explosions and then later rather inelegantly retracted these reports.

But even the worst of the mainstream media didn’t come close to the display by many bloggers and citizen journalists on social channels. Facebook and Twitter became clogged with unsubstantiated rumours, blatant misinformation, conspiracy theories, outright lies and most disturbingly displays of unfocused rage calling for death, destruction and blood (isn’t that what we’re supposed to be fighting against?).

At times my Facebook feed read like a parallel universe where people jumped to all kinds of strange conclusions about the bombing – based on nothing but emotion and rumours.

Most of the mainstream media showed the restraint and caution necessary to cover a story like Boston. That professional judgement was not adhered to by many bloggers, upstarts (BuzzFeed and Gawker, for example) and citizen reporters. It was the first time I ever turned off my Facebook and Twitter feeds to focus exclusively on mainstream media outlets.

What about you?  Did you find social media added value during the coverage of the Boston bombings?  What sources did you turn to?

* Disclosure: I’ve done social media consulting work for WBUR.

George F. Snell III is senior vice-president, digital & social communications, at Weber Shandwick Boston. This article first appeared on his blog High Talk

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