Tag Archives: shooting

Jumping the Gun: Irresponsible Media After the Shootings

I can’t say I’ve followed the Aurora Tragedy all that closely in the 64 hours since that all went down, but what I’ve seen on Twitter in the limited time I’ve been online this weekend has left me ill and angry at those in the journalistic field who should know better, demand better, and do better.

There are those who, like me, feel that saying the shooter’s name more than absolutely necessary is giving the sick fuck exactly what he’s looking for. There are those who are sitting on details until law enforcement confirms or denies the findings. There are also those who don’t want to “be first” with the details, who realize their value now isn’t in the speed of sharing information but is rather in assigning context to one of the worst domestic acts of violence in history. (There are also those like Anderson Cooper, who try not to say the shooter’s name, who are not speculating, and who do not want to be a part of this circus. Thank goodness for ethos.)

Much of the news media has social media and news in 2012 wrong. The business interests running the industry just don’t get it.

We need context now. The time for objectivity and passive reporting is gone. So too is the time for sensationalism and over-selling a story.

Unfortunately, many in the media disagree. They deludedly think being the first and telling the “most stuff” is what resonates long-term.

But we live in a world now where a man buys some weapons, can wear a costume, walk into a theatre, and shoot 70+ people.

We live in that world.

I read today where @ProducerMatthew Keys, a Deputy Social Media Editor for @Reuters News, was posting photos of the Aurora Shooter’s parent’s San Diego home. I’d link to the tweets and all, but then I feel I’d be committing the same borderline ethical transgressions. He seems to think it’s all well and good, that the license plates and house addresses were blurred. True — but the address is not blurred where it’s painted on the street curb.

Still: Really? This is “news”? Why does it matter where they live? Why do we need to see their home at all? Why do we care that the shooter’s car remains parked in front of their home? What value does the picture have over merely telling us the car is parked at his parents’ home? Where is the context provided for why this “news” is relevant to the story overall?

And where, most importantly, is the commentary that says his parents didn’t shoot anyone, and his mother acquiesced and said they had the right person when media and authorities first called her?

Oh, right. There’s only 140 characters, and 21 of those are absorbed by the photo’s URL, so, clearly in the remaining 119 characters, none of the Other Stuff That Can’t Fit matters.

Clearly, every consumer of content on the web is an upstanding and reliable individual who will take such information and behave as a civilized soul should. Right?

Most people are horrified by this crime, therefore all are equally horrified, and thusly we should reveal all we can about the atrocity so all can collectively mourn. Right?

Are you KIDDING me?

This shooter was a nutbag.* Who’s to say some off-the-deep-end family or friend of a victim doesn’t track down that Google Streetview address of the  shooter’s parents’ home and then go teach them what “they shoulda taught their son” or something?

We live in THAT WORLD now.

We live in the world where economies spanning the globe teeter on the brink. We live in the world where the rich get richer and the poor foot the bill, and are fed up.

We live in a time when people are angry and getting angrier.

These spree-killing crimes aren’t just an American phenomena now. They’ve spread, but America remains the leader.

Somehow, the ridiculous American legal system seems to think “freedom to bear arms” in an age where killing is high-tech and big-biz equates that same freedom granted 223 years ago, when a firearm required complicated loading and was slow, cumbersome, and often dangerous fire.

Today, weapons are out of control. There’s no need to fire dozens, even hundreds of rounds per minute. I don’t care who you are, where you are.

No need for such efficiency in death unless you’re a psychopath trying to make the biggest kill you can.

No need unless you’re big business trying to prove you can do it bigger, faster than before. New! Improved! Able to kill entire congregations with one continuous fire-burst! Fun for the whole family!

And yet the media wants to jump the gun, so to speak, on spilling the details about the killer. They give into our baser instincts and seek out all the dirty little details, pushing it on us like an overzealous Italian grandmother. Eat! Eat! Oh, sure you want more! Eat! There’s always more. Eat!

Some members of the media this weekend remind me of this guy I knew as a teen. He told me he was gonna trying to make a bird explode by feeding it nonstop. He’d heard that a gull would eat until the food source vanished. So, he’d feed ’em and feed ’em and feed ’em, hoping they’d go POW, with guts flying everywhere.

In recalling this messed-up kid and his feeding fetish, I find myself wondering when that day comes that journalists stop reporting on happenings and start becoming a part of the story by distributing information they have no ethical business distributing, and who’s gonna be the one who takes their information and acts from that place we all have inside — that place where we want to see these sick bastards get what they got comin’.

No shortage of Americans thought Lee Harvey Oswald got his due. That’s who we were 50 years ago. I’m sure we’re further evolved in vendetta-wishes by now.

And then there’s the likely innocent peripherals. What about the parents of these shooters? What about their family, their friends? The people who had nothing to do with it, who knew them before they went all mad and wanted to kill innocents, who maybe tried to get them to find help, who tried to be a part of the solution when they had no idea the magnitude of the problem? What about them? What if they were spurned by a system when they sough help, a system lacking support for sicker individuals, a system that often never sees the signs that are all too plain to see?

When will those family and friends begin being the retribution committed by someone connected to victims in a spree killing?

These aren’t unthinkable scenarios. Many have been written in the annals of TV and fiction. We understand retribution and revenge. It’s an entirely human reaction. It’s there in the Bible — an eye for an eye. We blame parents for children, but not every parent is to blame when we have chemical dysfunction, doctors overprescribing, and other possible neurochemical factors. We don’t know who’s to blame. That’s why we wait on the investigation, to be sure we’re not jumping to conclusions that come consequences.

Let the amateurs speculate. Journalists’ jobs ought to be to aggregate the available information, put it into context, and dispel the sensationalist details that give nothing to the real story, which we the consumers do fine conjuring on our own.

But we all know that’s not in the media’s interest. It’s big business now, and it’s tough to be a dinosaur in a digital age.

They’re the kid at the party who’s trying too hard. Only, the kid at the party never gets anyone killed.

Journalists, and the news media, owe us better.

*If you’re gonna get on me about calling a shooter “insane” because you’re a proponent of mental health, well, good for you for defending mental health issues, but no one sane picks up a weapon and fires, wounding 70 innocents. Nobody sane does that. So, let’s call it what it is, and instead of getting all offended he’s being called nuts, fight for the care he should have had long before he snapped. I’m not gonna fucking mince words.

The Blind Leading The Blind: News, Twitter Style

Days like yesterday make me realise I’ll always feel I’m a journalist. My schooling leaves me obligation-bound to the truth and facts, not conjecture.

Yesterday was a painful lesson in how very exceptional that mindset can be on the web, when it comes to researching from a fact-based place, and not just trying to find reports that match your worldview.

***

Cutting-edge graphic demonstrating how news circulates on Twitter.

Early in the day, a “Congress on Your Corner” event in Tucson, Arizona, left 6 people dead and 14 injured when a gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon armed with an extended magazine of ammo.

For a very short time after the first word of the shooting in Arizona, all we knew was that a politician and her surrounding entourage had been fired upon in a crowd at Safeway, and the casualties seemed heavy.

Immediate reactions were: “Some Tea Party bastard did this!”

And my gut reaction was the same. Do the math, right?

Emotional reactions happen to us all, that’s humanity for you.

Then I realised: We don’t know jack. We need to wait for more. Realising that put me in a very small minority.

Probably 80% or more of the content I saw flying about on Twitter was rampant speculation about political motivation.

Now, here’s the thing: We still don’t know what happened. Anything I say about Jared Loughner, the alleged gunman, or his motivations, are speculation until his life is torn apart and we know everything.

There’s a possible second shooter/accomplice that the officials are still seeking, so we’re far from having a clue about what really happened.

Early evidence, though, suggests that Loughner is anti-government more than he is motivated by party lines. There’s also evidence that he’s usually a nice guy and a volunteer for social events, but that he has some kind of mental illness.

This is all we know, really, so far. And it can change, quickly, and so might my stance; but the EVIDENCE will dictate my reaction.

***

It’s funny, the public always says how crap the media is, so off-the-mark so often, but the public itself doesn’t seem to have a clue on how to check stories before they go retweeting “facts” or “news”. They don’t seem to even care if it’s true.

But god help the news organisations if THEY get it wrong, right?

Case in point is this particular tweet from late in the day, when reports suddenly circulated that stated Congresswoman Giffords had already magically recovered from being shot in the head and was up chatting just a matter of hours after the shooting.

Because that always happens, right? Why not just assume it’s true. Okay! Here goes.

This tweet flew fast and furiously, with these 143 retweets coming within a half-hour of the report. His profile says he’s a reporter with KTLA. Therefore, he MUST be right, right?

How did I respond?

First reaction: That’s AWESOME.

Second reaction: Okay, says who?

So, I did a Twitter search for a couple different terms: “Congresswoman” and “Giffords”. When paging through HUNDREDS of results, the ONLY report saying she was awake was coming from this guy, Reporter David Begnaud of KTLA.

Literally, no other source was claiming this on Twitter. No news organisation links were floating, nothing. Just Begnaud’s inaccurate story.

Did the rest of Twitter check this out? No, more than 140 people blindly retweeted Begnaud’s erroneous information without seeing if a source had been cited anywhere.

One great thing about Begnaud is, he retracted it as soon as he knew.

But the big problem? He had a lousy 550-600 followers at the time. The 143 retweets had spanned widely across the web, with a vast array of six-degree tweeters, and the damage was done.

As soon as he retracted it, I was the FIRST PERSON to retweet his retraction. Others followed.

Just not many others, that’s all. Lookit. Four lousy retweets.

His retraction received less than 3% of the retweeting traffic his erroneous information generated.

So, who’s at fault here? Well, both the journalist AND the public.

Kudos to Begnaud for admitting he fucked up, big ups to him for retracting it and deleting the wrong info. But he reported without getting definitive confirmation from authorities. Journalists aren’t supposed to do that. “Be accurate, THEN fast.” Not the other way around.

Damage? Done.

And that’s how the whole OMIGOD A TEAPARTYMEMBER KILLED A MEMBEROFCONGRESS, WHATAREWEGONNADO? panic got unleashed on Twitter earlier yesterday.

Folks just ASSUMED there was a Tea Party connection. Someone remembered there’d been a clip about target practice in the opponent’s campaign, someone else remembered the Palin infamous “target” poster, and everyone just assumed they went together.

The wrong story flew and a shitstorm ensued.

But don’t just take my word for it, take a look at Craig Silverman’s excellent timeline of tweets that shows you how the Twitter Day of News progressed after the horrible shooting happened. It’s simply brilliant. The news agencies screwed the pooch six ways to Sunday yesterday.

***

But that’s traditional media. Surely social media has no such ethical obligation, right? Wrong.

If you’re a member of “social media” and you think you’re some news aggregator, and you’re sending out link after link because you’re “so on top” of all this shit, but you don’t research to make sure there’s more than one source cited, or ensure it’s not just speculation, then you have no business aggregating news.

I don’t give a shit that you don’t have a degree in journalism, you’re not paid, and you think the media’s “ethics” aren’t bound to you.

You’re “helping” people by spreading “interesting” stories?

Um, no. No, you’re not.

You have a responsibility to do your CHOSEN job well. Make sure what’s sent around the web isn’t just more of the lies and half-truths that are tearing America apart.

Waiting for the right information isn’t sexy.

Being the woman shouting “YOU’RE SPECULATING, THERE’S NO PROOF” is really hard when people accuse you of being a heartless bitch or not caring about the victims, or that you’re stupid and ignorant about the OBVIOUS political situation.

Conjecture and speculation are dangerous.

What if it took longer for the news to come in? What if enraged Democrats loaded their rifles and went out looking for retribution?

What if?

Yesterday could have been a far worse day.

We’re very lucky the misinformation and passionately partisan battles have largely subsided today, because it’s toxic and should have no place in our society.

As social media, we too have a responsibility to ensure the accuracy of what we report. We have an ethical obligation to ensure truth, not conjecture, is what we spread.

I’ve been saying for years that blogging and social media could change the news world forever, that the non-corporate “journalist” worldview could bring a more “We, The People” perspective on the news, and events could be shaped with more societal relevance than ever.

But, you know what?

Not if you don’t get your shit right. Not if you don’t stop believing that, if it’s in print, it’s true.

There are more inaccuracies on Twitter than anywhere else on the web, I feel, because of the fly-by nature of tweets and the ease in which you can delete them.

But tweeting fast-and-furiously without regard for accuracy and then just using the Cleanup-on-Aisle-7 method of delete-and-retract IS IRRESPONSIBLE. It’s dangerous.

It’s bad social media.

I don’t give a fuck if you think the Tea Party is horrible, and that violence seems to be something they espouse. You don’t take that belief and sandwich it with what APPEARS to be the situation, then call that a “news”. That’s a gossip column, at BEST.

You don’t take your politics and then analyse the situation according to your worldview then report your subjective take on it.

Who the fuck are you, Glenn Beck? Oh, you’re a liberal, so THAT makes it okay? Uh, no.

And I don’t care if you’re some guy with a Twitter account, not a “journalist” — you’re a part of the misinformation problem. Don’t be.

Sooner or later, bad things are gonna happen if people don’t start spreading information with more objectivity and research done before clicking on “update” or “tweet”.

If folks don’t like me because I call it like it is when people are injecting personal feelings into their chosen “news” tweets, or are jumping to dangerous conclusions that are inciting others, then so be it.

But I sure as hell won’t stand around when I see nothing but half-truths, inaccuracies, and preaching being sent around. I won’t stand around when partisan hate of either political affiliation is being circulated as “news”.

Because, whatever you might think of some fuckwits in the industry, I’m a journalist, I learned the ethics of news circulation, I live the ethics, and that’s not changing.

Integrity matters. Truth matters. Because that’s what the press SHOULD be guided by. That’s what social media SHOULD be guided by.

If we the people want the media held to a higher standard, reporting better than they have been, then it needs to start with us.

It starts with us demanding more, but also with us researching the claims we make, the links we share, and the stories we tell…

BEFORE we send the information out there.