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Did Tech Websites Exploit the Boston Marathon Bombing? 182

Posted by Soulskill
from the defining-news-coverage dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "These days, when something in the world goes very wrong, it seems as if everybody learns about it first on Twitter and Facebook. In the minutes after homemade bombs turned the finish line of the Boston Marathon into a crime scene, terms such as #BostonMarathon shot to the top of Twitter's Trends list; across the country, office workers first learned of the attack when someone posted a message on a Facebook page. Social networks have become this generation's radio, the default conduit for the freshest information. As first responders treated the wounded and the minutes ticked past, news organizations began vacuuming up Twitter and Facebook posts from around Boston and posting it on their Websites, along with 'regular' text updates. A Vine video-snippet of a bomb going off near the finish line, knocking a runner off his feet, ended up embedded into dozens of blog postings. When a disaster strikes, and many of those same news Websites post 'live updates' that incorporate tons of social-networking posts, they face accusations of exploiting the tragedy in the name of pageviews and revenue. That's not surprising—long before 'yellow journalism' became a term, people have charged news organizations with playing up humanity's worst for their own gain. In the immediate aftermath of the Boston bombings, online pundits lashed out against Mashable, The Verge, Wired, and other publications that had posted live updates, accusing them of stepping outside their usual coverage areas for cynical gain. In the following piece, a number of tech editors-in-chief, including The Verge's Joshua Topolsky and Mashable's Lance Ulanoff, talk about their approaches to covering the tragedy."
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Did Tech Websites Exploit the Boston Marathon Bombing?

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  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:02PM (#43465487)

    "Some Websites that posted “live updates” faced accusations of exploiting the tragedy in the name of pageviews and revenue." ??

    Each time a disaster happens, we're FLOODED with the same info, repeated over and over... on TV and Internet...

    So can I ask something : What's the difference between a website and a channel, such as Fox/CBC/CNN/etc !?
    Why only the "Websites" and not every damn TV channel that broadcast the same ****ing news all day long?

    ty.

    • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Joce640k (829181) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:09PM (#43465583) Homepage

      Modern "news" channels are basically just a loop of the five worst things that happened in the world today.

      Film at 11.

      • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @05:12PM (#43466309) Journal

        Modern news channels are the five worst things that happened to the world today.

      • by s.petry (762400)

        Modern "news" channels are basically just a loop of the five worst things that happened in the world today, presented from the perspective the Government want's you to have.

        Film at 11.

        FTFY!

        • by Joce640k (829181)

          presented from the perspective the Government want's you to have.

          Film at 11.

          Yeah, that.

          Notice a complete lack of anything bad happening in Iraq/Afghanistan on TV. Absolutely no outrage over the war, only brave soldiers coming home to new Ford Mustangs...yeah, that.

      • Modern news? This is all very old news. Disasters and wars have been great for the media at least since the invention of the printing press.

    • This a thousand times.

      I was in the doctor's office today and watched over an hour of "breaking live news" in which we learned:
      - bombs went off
      - injuries and deaths
      - speculation
      - speculation
      - FEAR
      - speculation
      - TERROR
      - speculation
      - TERROR SECURITY INCREASED IN MAJOR CITIES
      - speculation

      Then we repeated the above in a loop. And were continuing to do so when I left. I counted at least 23 uses of the word "terror" in one 15 minute segment, including the new and popular "terror event".

      The noise from twitter and

      • by tehcyder (746570)
        So you'd rather that no one was allowed to report on any news until it had been sanitised and given some official seal of approval?

        If you or anyone else sits down in front of a news website/TV and watches the same stories being repeated time after time, that's your fault, not the news providers. They're there to tell you the news.

        I personally still like watching the scheduled news at 10 on the BBC, once a day, and maybe listening to the radio on the way to work in case there's anything urgent happening

  • by stevegee58 (1179505) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:05PM (#43465523) Journal
    No wonder there was so much misinformation. First there was 1 dud bomb that didn't go off, then there were 5. Then there were none.
    This is all social media's doing.
    • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

      CNN reported Ryan Lanza was the Newtown shooter at first. Then tweets followed.

      Ryan being Adams brother.

      • by jxander (2605655)
        Social media may not always be the perpetrator of hastily published misinformation ... but it certainly leads the charge on that front.
      • by tehcyder (746570)
        Holy shitty Jesus on a tricycle, human beings are fallible and make mistakes in the heat of the moment!

        Who knew?

    • by Iskender (1040286) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:30PM (#43465863)

      No wonder there was so much misinformation. First there was 1 dud bomb that didn't go off, then there were 5. Then there were none.
      This is all social media's doing.

      Was all the information we received during the 911 attacks accurate right from the start? At least I heard wildly different accounts as the situation developed, so I'd say no.

      "Social media" didn't really exist back then, and certainly isn't the cause. When something sudden happens it takes time for the information to disseminate, and for a while people have to rely on rumours. It's the same as it ever was.

      It's possible that one thing has changed: people have developed unrealistic expectations for how quickly you can get accurate information from far away.

      • by PIBM (588930) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @05:31PM (#43466513) Homepage

        Where were you ? I for one was lurking on a very busy IRC channel before going to the University. Them someone posted `WWWWTTTFFFF!!!!!`, a few seconds later he said that a plane crashed in the building, and a minute later he started sharing (yeah, we then had to send it to other people manually ..) webcam snapshots. That was pretty much a social network at work.

        • I was watching live feed as the second plane hit. Before that, my school went on lockdown and ushered all the kids away from the TVs (I was in the library and hid in the stacks so I can stay and watch) while all the majority of the teachers stayed in the library to watch the news. I'll never forget that second plane hitting - or the buildings start collapsing.
          • by Cederic (9623)

            Before that, my school went on lockdown

            Sorry, but this just fucking annoys me. What the fuck is 'lockdown' and why fucking bother. Maybe it's because I went to schools that actually suffered terrorist attacks.

            Which incidentally is why I have no fucking sympathy for Boston right now. People in Boston funded the terror attacks against me. Cunts.

        • by Cormacus (976625)
          I was sleeping in my bunk. Woke up, slid down to the computer desk underneath said bunk and almost immediately got an IM (on AIM, since thats what all the cool kids were using at that point) to the effect of 'the world is ending.' Got the TV card in my computer working in time to see plane #2 hit.
      • The iron triangle of news media: Fast, accurate, thoughtful. Choose [at most] two.

    • Also, the NY Post's. They said there was 12 dead.

      • by rockout (1039072)
        I saw that as well - it was up for about 8 hours (at least) while all other sources were saying 2, and then 3. That rag will take any piece of sensational info they get from any source and just run with it, though. It seems more important to them to be "first" rather than accurate.
      • by femtobyte (710429)

        The NY Post also ran the (now thoroughly falsified) "news" that a Saudi suspect had been taken into custody early after the blast. That served as a great filter for identifying racist right-wing nutters, who were eager to pass along the NY Post's predictable uncorroborated tabloid Islamophobia as if it were an actual news source.

        • by cffrost (885375)

          The NY Post also ran the (now thoroughly falsified) "news" that a Saudi suspect had been taken into custody early after the blast. That served as a great filter for identifying racist right-wing nutters, who were eager to pass along the NY Post's predictable uncorroborated tabloid Islamophobia as if it were an actual news source.

          That "news item" was previously included in the Wikipedia article on this event, [wikipedia.org] with Daily Mail serving as the cited source.

          • by tehcyder (746570)
            The Daily Fail probably blames the Boston Marathon bombings on asylum seekers in the UK.
    • by tehcyder (746570)
      No, it's your doing. If you listen to, and take seriously, any random twitter or facebook message, you're a fucking moron.
  • by reiserifick (2616539) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:05PM (#43465533)
    ... most news agencies are for-profit entertainment businesses, rather than public service organizations.
    • by ArsonSmith (13997)

      And they are mutually exclusive?

      • by kelemvor4 (1980226) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @05:24PM (#43466445)
        Yes. A "for-profit entertainment business exists for the purpose of making profit. A public service organization exists to provide a public service. A for profit entertainment business might happen to also provide some public service if they think it will help them make more profit. A public service organization (if it isn't declared a nonprofit, which they tend to be) might happen to turn a profit but their main goal is providing a public service.
      • by tehcyder (746570)

        And they are mutually exclusive?

        Not absolutely, but when push comes to shove profits will come first.

    • by Dan667 (564390)
      when big media starts reporting things like "are we safe?" to fear monger then they cross over into exploiting a tragedy for their own gain. They should have any profits reaped taken from them when they do this. I noticed big media like CNN was not included in this list and they should be absolutely. They are the worst at it.
    • And the ones that are public service organisations feel they have an obligation to "keep up" with the rest.
    • by JBMcB (73720)

      Unless it's employees are volunteers, public service organizations operate for profit as well, they just don't give it to anyone else.

  • by PhamNguyen (2695929) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:08PM (#43465575)
    The idea that tech blogs can cover stories about tech, but should leave coverage of serious political and human issues to the "big boys" of traditional media, is ridiculous. There is no special license needed to write about serious and important topics, only the usual requirement that the reporting be genuinely in the public interest. Presenting information from social networks, as long as it is labelled as such and not misrepresented as certain fact, is in no way improper. If people are interested in reading about that information, there is nothing wrong with providing it, and if tech blogs feel that because of their focus, they are especially able to do this, then they should.
    • by Obfuscant (592200) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:26PM (#43465805)

      The idea that tech blogs can cover stories about tech, but should leave coverage of serious political and human issues to the "big boys" of traditional media, is ridiculous.

      Right. But the idea that tech blogs should stick to tech stuff isn't. People categorize information because it helps them manage the information overload of their daily lives. I go to tech sites to read about tech things. When I want politics, if ever, I go to a political site. When I want entertainment news, if ever, I go to an entertainment website.

      This categorization of information works very well and helps reduce clutter and overload. It also allows specialization in coverage. Tech blog writers have no special credentials for politics or entertainment news, so why should they pretend they are the best source of information about either? And why should a tech website be wasting bandwidth/storage/author time covering something that is being covered better somewhere else where those who want such coverage can easily find it themselves?

      It's not like people who read tech blogs are incapable of going to general news sites when they want general news, is it? Do technical people have some limit on how well they can navigate the net?

      • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:44PM (#43466053) Journal
        That depends. Many blogs have a sizable crowd of followers who regularly debate stuff amongst themselves, and in some cases there is a group of regular, frequent commenters, transforming a blog from a mere set of articles with comments into an online community. Such a community might well feel the need for a topic to discuss momentous events like these, even if it is off topic. Just like everyone was discussing it today at the water cooler and at their desks.
      • I agree with what you say, but I was addressing the criticisms in the article, which were that there was something improper about Tech sites covering this event, as opposed to simply these sites not having the expertise to produce something that readers would value.

        Most likely the Tech sites thought that given the level of user interest in this topic, that any new perspective the they could add to the topic would be valuable to readers. Some sites mentioned claimed that they are not "Tech" sites or that t

        • by s.petry (762400)

          Value in your first paragraph is very misleading. Value to whom? Does main stream media provide more value than a tech site? Perhaps to the Government or other agency trying to spread propaganda. Do they generate value to people searching for facts? Not in the last 10 years they have not.

          Let me further state that the reason so many other news sources are popping up, is because the main stream media has become almost pure propaganda. As more and more people catch on to that fact, the demand will increa

      • It's not like people who read tech blogs are incapable of going to general news sites when they want general news, is it? Do technical people have some limit on how well they can navigate the net?

        No, and presumably neither do you. So you're free to go to the political site if wish, and navigate away from a tech site that's trying to cover "politics" (actually breaking events). What's your problem with that? If anything the people reading the tech sites for breaking events will reduce the load on the political server sites that you want to visit.

        Tech blog writers have no special credentials for politics or entertainment news, so why should they pretend they are the best source of information about either?

        "Political and entertainment" sites (e.g. mainstream news outlets) cover tech news, even though they often clearly lack the ability to do so accurately. Ofte

        • by Obfuscant (592200)

          No, and presumably neither do you. So you're free to go to the political site if wish, and navigate away from a tech site that's trying to cover "politics" (actually breaking events). What's your problem with that?

          It's a waste of time for someone to go to a tech site and be presented with off-topic material that can be better found elsewhere. If someone wants that material, there are plenty of places they can go that are better suited for it and it won't get in the way of the purpose of the tech site.

          I.e., I came to the tech site for tech info. Getting useless info that isn't tech related is a waste of the user's time.

          If anything the people reading the tech sites for breaking events will reduce the load on the political server sites that you want to visit.

          I don't care about the load on webservers that I don't want to visit.

          "Political and entertainment" sites (e.g. mainstream news outlets) cover tech news,

          This is the "someone else

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        This categorization of information works very well and helps reduce clutter and overload. It also allows specialization in coverage. Tech blog writers have no special credentials for politics or entertainment news, so why should they pretend they are the best source of information about either?

        Blogs do not pretend they are the best source of information, users decide whether they are. Sometimes they are, as in the case of politics or entertainment news. In the former case, politicians are big fat liars and all major media outlets are in the corner of one politician or another. In the latter case, everyone and their mother has complained that there is no longer any useful and insightful movie review service on the order of Siskel & Ebert, and again the mass media primarily covers the mass medi

  • by jfengel (409917) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:11PM (#43465625) Homepage Journal

    I'm a marathon runner, and the first I heard about this was from friends inquiring if I knew anybody there. I can't conceive of what earthly good this information would have done them (perhaps they wanted to offer me some sort of comfort if I had) but I do know that whatever it is, people are fascinated by the tragedies and want to know everything they can the soonest they can.

    So I can hardly blame news companies for giving people the fastest information that they can. They're not so much "exploiting" the tragedy as giving people what it is they're craving (or at least, the closest substitute they can get to it, the unverified raw data stream). I don't think it's doing them any good (that's a different rant) but they're not forcing this on people. They're doing what people ask them to do.

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:11PM (#43465627)

    In what way did news coverage make things worse? If a huge crowd of cameramen were to obstruct the way of emergency vehicles I would understand the uproar, but absent that I fail to see what damage could journalism possibly cause.

    • In one 15 minute news segment that I watched today, I counted 23 uses of the word "terror". Over the course of an hour, they had non-stop live reporting - but told us basically the same basic known *facts* - there were three of them - and filled the rest of the time with speculation and fear-mongering.

      Among the patients discussing this in the doctor's office I was in today (that's why i got force-fed an hour of this crap), the consensus was that the increased police presence that we'll be seeing in several

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        Among the patients discussing this in the doctor's office I was in today (that's why i got force-fed an hour of this crap)

        I wasn't aware that it was compulsory to watch TV anywhere.

  • by KernelMuncher (989766) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:12PM (#43465641)
    It's no fault of social media that they are more timely and have more information than local / national news organizations. People want to get the info so they turn to whatever source they can. I don't see it as some crass opportunism to increase page count. It's simply social media sites deliver what the people want more quickly than anybody else.
    • by OhPlz (168413)

      Not only that, but the summary is assuming that everyone uses Facebook and Twitter. I don't, and I'm sure I'm not alone. A lot of people wouldn't know where to look on Twitter or Facebook to see the latest information. They may know some of the local news outlets and visit their web sites. By re-posting info from social media, the news sites are enabling the non-Facebook, non-Twitter crowd to be as up to date as everyone else. This is far more useful (aside from the danger of misinformation) than a vag

  • Caught my eye (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:14PM (#43465661)

    across the country, office workers first learned of the attack when someone posted a message on a Facebook page.

    I have no idea if this is true or not, but unfortunately I believe it.

    People waste so much paid work time on Facebook. Why don't they put it to productive use, and post on Slashdot instead?

  • by cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:14PM (#43465667)
    People made calls and sent texts immediately. This affects their monthly bill. Based on this TFS's reasoning, should we not see AT&T and Sprint as exploiting the tragedy as well?
    • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:36PM (#43465941)

      People made calls and sent texts immediately. This affects their monthly bill. Based on this TFS's reasoning, should we not see AT&T and Sprint as exploiting the tragedy as well?

      All those texts and phone calls overwhelmed and slowed the local cell services for hours.
      In related news, AT&T wireless users didn't notice the difference. :-)

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      Cell providers only profit if they calls go through, and so they only profit to the point where they can connect a call. They would be taking advantage of the situation only if there was some location that they knew would be affected by bombs and made sure and built out the infrastructure to handle it, and then added a surcharge for some sort of peak coverage. Otherwise, it's just higher call volume.

      • I agree. [I]t's just higher call volume.That's the same situation that TFS describes with social networks.

        As first responders treated the wounded and the minutes ticked past, news organizations began vacuuming up Twitter and Facebook posts from around Boston and posting it on their Websites

        The communications medium is being used more, but since it is an internet based medium it's treated as something new. What's especially odd about this piece is that it's acting like the "Tech Websites" were somehow rema

  • It doesn't particularly matter if they were trying to exploit it or not since they just can't do non-tech major breaking news reporting as good as the big boys.

    Take The Verge, for example, who seem to not grasp the simple concept that if you're going to try and live blog, you write from the bottom up to allow for rapid F5'ing. Mashable's content is no better than one going to Twitter and typing "Boston" in the search box.

    If you want to exploit something, you need to give them reason to stick around while yo

  • by _xeno_ (155264) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:20PM (#43465733) Homepage Journal

    As first responders treated the wounded and the minutes ticked past, news organizations began vacuuming up Twitter and Facebook posts from around Boston and posting it on their Websites, along with 'regular' text updates. A Vine video-snippet of a bomb going off near the finish line, knocking a runner off his feet, ended up embedded into dozens of blog postings. When a disaster strikes, and many of those same news Websites post 'live updates' that incorporate tons of social-networking posts, they face accusations of exploiting the tragedy in the name of pageviews and revenue.

    So, wait, are talking about "tech websites" or "traditional journalists" here? Because when I first heard about the explosions (from Twitter, naturally), I went to boston.com - which was in some kind of "low bandwidth" mode where they front page was only showing tweets related to the explosions.

    "Traditional" media throughout the aftermath referenced tweets. NPR referenced the Boston Police Department's Twitter feed for updates. Local TV stations turned to Twitter, Vine, and YouTube to find videos of the explosion.

    I guess only tech websites aren't "allowed" to mine Twitter? Because from what I could tell, everyone was doing that, from print to radio to TV to the web.

  • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:22PM (#43465751) Homepage Journal

    legitimized with an editorial?

    Traditional news sites repost content from social networks and blog sites, and then traditional media blames social networks and blog sites for exploiting tragedy and the errors they themselves repeated.

    Who fucking cares what they think. You should be attacking them directly, not defending yourselves with equivocation about page views and advertising. Newspapers and TV news have ads too, and their websites are even more obnoxious with them.

  • Maybe... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sunking2 (521698)
    Just like Slashdot is by posting a non story for clicks.
  • by Nukenbar (215420) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:36PM (#43465949)

    If people would simply put, "it is reported" in tweets instead of "it is confirmed" (when it is not), we could really cut down on a lot of misinformation.

  • Don't care... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dthanna (1294016) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @04:39PM (#43465989)

    If The Verge, Slashdot, Wired or, heck, Gizmag want to write about the explosion - it is their 1st Amendment right to do so. Same goes for the National Enquirer, STAR, or any of the other tabloid journals. This isn't any different than WSJ, NYT, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Al Jazeera, etc. can write about tech items, happiness, tragedy, cat getting stuck in a tree or anything else considered newsworthy.

    Each outlet will be judged by how well they do their job, and will receive an appropriate reputation.

    Since our news organizations are a combination of subscriber and advertiser revenue based, they have to write according to their generating said revenue.

    We can either just deal with the situation as it stands or have state-run news organizations. I really don't think anyone would be comfortable with the latter as even approaching truthfulness or integrity in the long term.

    If the 'Big Boys' don't like the upstarts encroaching on their turf - all I can say is.. too bad.

  • Nerval's Lobster has a correction for the original post.

    "I must apologize for calling any of these outlets "news organizations" , I was incorrect. Now back to regularly scheduled programming. "
  • Didn't Slashdot do the exact same thing yesterday?

    On the other hand, not saying anything seems callous, so you're damned no matter what you do.

  • by organgtool (966989) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @05:14PM (#43466329)
    Sorry, Betteridge, but I have to agree with this headline. When I first learned of the bombing, I attempted to get to footage of the live feed. When I clicked on the link, I was treated to an upbeat commercial with two guys joking around and playing guitar in an attempt to sell Geico insurance. I thought there must be some mistake because no one in their right mind would force a viewer to watch commercials before getting news about a tragedy, but sure enough the live feed proceeded after the commercial. Humanity has commercialized tragedy much sooner than I expected.
  • No tech "journalists" did not. The media did.

    One thing wrong about this is taking people on Twitter's word for it. Twitter and other social networks are the web equivalent of everyone shouting OMG ponies except it's not ponies.....

  • Not provide as much coverage out of a sense of good taste?
  • Can we dispense with the term "homemade"? This is a bogus term on many levels. A) It implies that there are store-bought (or restaurant-quality) devices available. It's about as useful as calling some fancy devices 'gourmet' bombs. B) It also implies a connection to so-called 'homegrown' terrorists in the same way that the Benghazi attack was due to (and justified by) a video (which it wasn't but what difference does that make). Call them what they are: an improvised explosive device (IED). That is an

  • I first heard of this bombing on ESPN at the restaurant I was eating lunch at. The Boston marathon is a legitimate sports event, but they continued covering and discussing the bombing well past the point of it being a sports story. Was ESPN exploiting the tragedy?
  • by russotto (537200) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @08:47PM (#43468237) Journal

    Don't they know that exploiting tragedy for profit is the job of the mainstream media?
    (as is handwringing over doing just that)

    Seriously, if you're in the news business, whether a blogger or a regular media member, exploiting tragedies is part and parcel of your business. "If it bleeds, it leads", right?

  • in my country all major news media relies on ad-generated revenue. they exploit everything from human interest stories to the weather.

  • You can say this about any for profit industry that benefits from disaster - media outlets, mobile phone service providers, funeral homes, medical institutions and doctors, nurses, paramedics. Life is life, and we have businesses based around reacting to disasters, pain, and suffering. I don't think anyone in those industries leaps for joy when it happens though. To pick on the tech industry specifically is kind of weak. They're pretty far down the line in terms of the beneficiaries of the death econ

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