TV coverage of Boston manhunt

Friday, 19 April 2013 11:59 PM Written by 

CNN fail

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It's difficult to remember a more chaotic week in American news: It started with a bombing at the Boston Marathon, continued with a congressional vote to put the right to buy arms without delay ahead of the wishes of a majority of the American public and the grieving families of Newtown. Then a huge fertilizer plant explosion leveled a town in Texas, then Boston bombing suspects were identified and one killed, Boston was locked down all of Friday and then the second suspect was found in a boat in a backyard in a community called Watertown.

And, oh yeah, a 7.0 quake was reported tonight in China.

It's been exhausting for viewers and one can only imagine how the first responders and media covering these events must feel.

So how did the media do? Read more after the jump. ...

To say that some in the media jumped the gun with their reports, that they got things wrong, that they were more concerned with being potentially first rather than accurate would be to say exactly what gets written after just about every major news event like this. And these news outlets never seem to learn.

So, yes, it's fair to say that CNN, Fox News Channel and the AP screwed up earlier in the week with a report that a suspect was arrested when that simply was not the case (pictured above). And some jumped to conclusions on the bombers' ethnicity, which also proved to be wrong. (Not that it stopped new CNN exec Jeff Zucker from praising his team.)

zooey oopsAnd, as often happens, tension-filled coverage gives way to tedious hours of repetition before the excitement begins anew. This isn't new, it's become part of the breaking news script. (Speaking of scripts, the reaction to the capture of Suspect No. 2 with people cheering police on the street was straight out of the ending of a Michael Bay film. How long until Hollywood jumps on this story for a movie?)

But what has changed is how American viewers can take this all in. There are opportunities that simply did not exist a few years ago.

Tonight the best coverage could be found on local TV in Boston, which was available online via web streams. After reading suggestions on Twitter, I opened a browser window to watch/listen to coverage on Boston's WCVB and it was largely professional, measured and superior to what the cable and brodcast networks had to offer. When a WCVB staffer made a mistake -- an anchor read a "got him" message from a reporter and misinterpreted it -- they corrected it quickly, they didn't slowly walk it back as CNN did early in the week.

The best gaffe of the night -- if it was real and not some Photoshop-savvy mischief-maker's manufactured goof -- was found on a Fox affiliate (pictured above) and shared via social media: closed captions misidentified the suspect as the star of a Fox comedy. (She responded, too.)

Clearly the best way to take in breaking news coverage is through the web. Yes, social media users can be as mistake-prone as TV news when armchair sleuths think they've solved the case, but following the coverage tonight on Twitter was what prompted me to look at the WCVB feed. Social media also acts as an insta-media critic as viewers mock the press and share examples of blunders.

It can also be a gateway to gruesome sights: An image of Suspect No. 1's body circulated online. And it can take you to interesting, if unverifiable, personal accounts of meeting the suspects.

So in the future when there's breaking news, I know how I'll absorb it: By going to Twitter, following along with viewers posting there and watching for suggestions on the best alternatives to the national broadcast and cable networks. 

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