The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 26, 2013

Story engulfed in convergence of new, old mass media

By NEIL FRIEDER - Star Beacon Editor
Star Beacon

—  I actually didn’t want to write anything regarding the Boston Marathon bombing story, but it has worn heavy on me.

In all honesty it seems too complicated.  In the years to come historians will write volumes on it, and there will be several movies. Now it seems to be a tangled mess.

 Although I know a number of people from the moment the story broke on April 22 who are devoting most of their daily lives to following it, I have not. Mine has been cursory because I have to follow other news stories, both locally and points elsewhere.

Still, in all my years in the news business I have never quite seen anything like the Boston Marathon bombing story and how it captured the attention of the nation for at least several days.

That in all probability is a result of emerging new and old mass communications systems, whose members are battling more than ever to reign supreme in the realm of immediacy.  In the news business there always has been a sense of pride if your newspaper broke the big news story first. There are two key words we use: Accuracy and speed. Accuracy is first.

 Today though the competition is far more rabid with the emergence of Internet social media news sites , such as Twitter and Facebook. Although these two sites lack credibility they do have audience.

That sense of today’s immediacy brings with it a sense of drama for the audience. This story has tragedy, mystery and heroism. It is hard to beat those ingredients in the making of great news stories.

It seemed when the story first broke on the  afternoon of April 22,  the audience wanted to know how many people died and how many were injured. Then they wanted to know if it was a bombing, if it was a terrorist plot and then finally who dunnit. Once the dunnit came, the story of the suspect brothers has been riveting, and so has the stories of the victims.

 Even in the early stages of this story it seemed as if we had entered the media world of Marshall McCluhan, who in the mid-1960s theorized on hot and cool media. Hot media being the printed word and cool media  of the electric television, which would allow us to participate in the story. He did not envision what is happening in the convergence of social media and mass media of today.

 The Boston Marathon story shows how involved in the story we became not just by following television, Facebook and Twitter, but also newspaper websites (including the Star Beacon’s), which were posting breaking news, updates, etc., quicker than cable and network news could bring it to you live.

This convergence of mass media was embraced by the masses, and helped along by the authorities who were calling on the public for help. They wanted the public’s photos, videos and first-hand accounts.

 Since it was a major sporting event in a major city, there were a lot of media on hand recording the bombs going off, people scrambling, people being maimed and injured and bodies laying about. We could identify with the injured and dead because they are people like us.

 Minute-by-minute, evidence seemed to be pouring in and posted by various mass media outlets so the audience could become involved  in what was happening within moments after it happened.

Another thing that made this story different was the amount of mistakes, or perhaps fabrications, such as Thursday of last week when it was reported the two suspects were in police custody. A number of major news outlets were bulleting this break that seemed to originate from the Associated Press,  The Boston Globe and CNN. It was recanted later. But where did it come from? They said a highly reliable inside source.  Was this purposely done by the FBI, or police, or did the media mess up?

There has been other bad facts, such as when authorities found where suspect number 2, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was hiding in a boat. They reported an exchange of gunfire ensued between him and police.

It has since been reported Tsarnaev, had no weapon and he was hiding underneath a tarpaulin in serious condition with a bullet wound in his throat.

 In the good old days when there were fewer members of the mass media, the newspaper was designated as the first credible source of history. The immediacy of the Internet with Twitter, Facebook and blogging has skewed that. While they do report news, it lacks the credibility to become the foundation in recording of history.

 I like to think the Boston Marathon story will push people to return to more reliable recorders of history.

Frieder is editor of the Star Beacon and can be reached at nfeditor@suite224.net.