Broken news

brokenFor me, news of the Boston bombing broke on my phone, in a remote hotel on the island of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos, where I had gone for a speaking engagement at a corporate offsite. First came emails with no context, from friends asking if I was okay. Next I checked the Web to see what was up, and got the basics. Then, back in my hotel room, I got WBUR on my phone and listened for awhile to live coverage. Then I fell into an old habit: finding CNN on the hotel TV and watching it until the looping of already-said stuff became intolerable, and moved on.

Today, back in New York, we’ve been working at home with CNN running on our “TV” (an old flat screen connected to an older laptop channeling our Dish Network receiver in Santa Barbara). The sound is muted, and every so often we look up to see what’s being scrolled across the bottom, noting how the need-to-scoop outruns the facts of the case, whatever they are. I stifled the urge to document the silliness of it all, because I was sure somebody or other would do a better job. The first I found was Josh Marshall on TPM, inviting us to “Relive It (CNN’s 90 Minutes of Awesome).”

Specifically, CNN said somebody had been arrested, and there would be more at 5pm. Then CNN said nobody had been arrested, but continued to harp on the allegedly suspicious actions of some guy caught on pixels. “SOURCES: POSSIBLE SUSPECT SEEN ON VIDEO” it says now. (Bonus link.)

From a journalistic perspective, what we see here is a dissolving of the old canon, and with it old habits, and the more gradual construction of a new canon, by countless persons other than those who maintain the old one (but including maintainers who are not in denial). The new canon, when it coheres, years from now, will be the omelette we make of many factual eggs, seen and heard by many eyes and ears, and cooked by many brains. Many professional journalists will still be involved, because journalism will remain a profession and cream will still rise.  But we won’t be putting Humpty’s new guts back in TV news’ broken shell. (Going for a new metaphorizing record here.)


  1. George Lowry’s avatar

    April 17, 2013
    No Information Found on CNN
    Posted by Andy Borowitz

    BOSTON (The Borowitz Report)—Authorities who have spent the past forty-eight hours combing CNN in the hopes of finding any information whatsoever have called off their search, they confirmed today.

    “After monitoring every minute of CNN’s broadcast since Monday, we have found hearsay, rumors, falsehoods, and a steady stream of inane commentary,” one authority said. “Everything but information.”

    The announcement was the second black eye today for CNN, which earlier in the afternoon recanted all of its reporting dating back to mid-2009.

    Newly installed CNN chief Jeff Zucker acknowledged that the network had experienced “a rough patch” since he took over earlier this year, but added, “At least no one was watching.”

  2. Joseph Ratliff’s avatar

    I never understood why any journalist or news service would report ANYTHING this important without verifying the facts, 100%.

    Not 99, not 99.5, but 100-freakin percent.

    This is just, sad.

  3. Mauricio’s avatar

    I recall many years ago, most likely on this website but possibly on, reading words to the effect of “one day a significant news event will be caught on camera by many people with ordinary phones/cameras”. The topics was about going beyond News 1.x and Newspapers 1.x.

    I see that today:

    Btw, the omelette metaphor is great. Never heard it before, and never expected it…

  4. Jan Searls’s avatar

    “Turn on your TV.  Any channel.” It’s the call we all dread getting now; the call I got from within minutes of Boston happening.  When I turned on the TV the scene was still being covered by the reporters who went to cover a race and found themselves running to help.  It was still being covered by reporters telling what they knew, not anchors standing in the way trying to fill airtime or pundits guessing.  I got the call before Anderson Cooper headed to the airport.  I got the call while it was still friggin’ news.

    Turn on your TV.  Any channel.  9/11 conditioned us to make that call. America was divided that day into 3 groups:  (1) Those who made the call, who saw 9/11 as it happened in NYC or DC or on TV; (2) those who found out it happened after it was “live TV” and may have felt cheated because they didn’t experience it as it happened; and (3) those who weren’t alive yet. or weren’t old enough to know.   That call has now been amplified and accelerated by technology into tweets, texts, and every other media mode.

    The call went out within seconds for Boston, but those of us who turned to TV were left wandering in a sea of airtime-filling through assumptions, analysis and voyeurism. It was a farce to call it news and it rapidly became a fiasco of false information. They hunted for news and came up empty. Those who turned elsewhere became gatherers and continually added to and sorted through their information and were probably more rewarded for the effort.

    Basically, more and more people are turning to other sources because TV has blown its cover as a source for news.  It is entertainment, pure marketing and advertising driven entertainment out to gather eyeballs and oblivious of the brains behind them. 

    I been thinking about canceling my cable but the one thought that has kept me connected was “what if I didn’t have TV when 9/11 happened?”  Well, now I know.  So screw them all.  Any “entertainment” I want I can find through other means.  Any news I want I will get from NPR or Al Jazeera or the BBC.  As far as I can tell, American TV has chosen to remove itself from my source list.

    But you know what?  If it ever wants to redeem itself I have a suggestion:  Investigate.  Investigate and lift the rock on our supposedly democratically elected government and reveal for all to see the true power in this country:  The NRA, the oil industry, Big Banks,  Big Pharm, etc., etc..  Really show to the American people, without party bias, how their government has been bought and paid for by lobbyists.  But that will never happen because the media has been purchased as well.

  5. Jim’s avatar

    I think what it reveals is that 24-hour cable news is like plush shag carpets of a pale green/lime color. Very ’70s, early ’80s. Last good day was for CNN during the First Iraqi war. Fearless correspondents in a Baghdad hotel, watching the green night with exploding bombs and ack-ack. Really live.

    It’s really, really expensive to get 24-hours live happenings. And really, really boring when you do, in most cases. The newsperson stuck out on remote, six or seven hours after hearing what might have happened here is a totally useless sight.

    We need to watch things on the viddy screen, and meanwhile CNN or the organizagtion of your choice sends out notifications. When the story is something you want to know, click on a link.

  6. Andrew Leyden’s avatar

    With the benefit of the time zone difference, what happened at MIT and Watertown took place throughout my day and I was able to watch the breaking news on Twitter, Reddit, and through police scanners trump the traditional media sources, many of whom had their ‘graveyard’ staff on duty throughout the night. What really was striking to me was this was not a social media ‘reporting’ event, but more of a social media ‘journalist’ event. First person accounts, firefight videos, live pictures from within the secure zone that traditional media was blocked from entering. It was an amazing process to watch.

  7. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, everybody.

    This is one big and surreal learning project, fersure. I want to write more, but have actual work to do, in New York, where I am now, glad to not be at our Boston place, paralyzed in lockdown like nearly everybody else there.

    The story now, at least for me, is how civilization proceeds when thousands are stranded en route to or from work, where those with essential jobs (e.g. medical, police, fire) are also unable to get where they are needed to go.

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