april 19, old media, and a new chapter

When all of the Boston Marathon Bombing/MIT/Watertown stories are done being written, a great many of them will have dealt with the role of the Internet and social media in how the story broke. Their analyses will no doubt deal with who got what right and when, or how it's impossible to accurately "crowd-source" a story and still muster the kind of results we've all come to expect from top-notch journalism. 

There are excellent discussions to be had there.

But what a great many of these articles will be missing is the documented evidence of just how differently the night transpired for traditional TV news sources, versus what the rest of the world was able to cobble together with a laptop and some iPhones. 

I'd like to present some of that evidence here. It's an (admittedly) incomplete-- although quite revealing-- scrapbook of sorts, which might just give you an inkling of what I'm talking about, and what it all means.

In the early morning hours of Friday, April 19, the Watertown/MIT incidents began to unfold. Information was desperately being sought after, and yet seemed to trickle out incredibly slowly.

Incredibly slowly, that is, if you were watching it on TV. This is what was being reported by the television media, for what was probably a good three hours:


Pretty much just that. There's an operation in an area near MIT, maybe an explosion, and some guy on the ground. For the record, that guy on the ground was not a suspect. Or a person of interest. But CNN kept footage of him on the screen for longer than I could keep my eyes open. Also note that the search is apparently for a single "gunman."


This tweet appeared at 4:11 AM, about two hours after news of the MIT shooting, carjacking, and shootout with Massachusetts police began to really pick up. Also finally confirmed by TV news media at 4:11 AM: that the unfolding incident was actually related to the Boston Marathon bombing; that someone may be dead, but no one is sure who; and that there are possibly two people involved. 

Now, here's a look at what Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube could put together on the situation. Everything you see below was gathered by 3:30 AM, and some of it was published as early as 6:00 PM the day before.

Here are transcripts posted to Reddit of some of the (then-live) Boston area police scanners.

Here's a snap of a Google Maps link of the area, posted to the same Reddit thread you see above.


Here's a YouTube video someone shot outside their window of the shootout in progress.

An image and a tweet of bullet holes from the shootout, lodged in a witness's wall.

To say that the contrast presented here is stark, would be a fairly massive understatement.

I'm not suggesting that the Internet got everything right; it rarely (never) does. I'm not suggesting that all other forms of journalism are dead; on the contrary, the best reporting of the entire situation was done by the Boston Globe, a newspaper that could easily be described as wary of "new media." What I am suggesting, is that by 4:11 AM-- roughly three hours later, and with nothing of real value to report-- the old guard of cable news was failing; failing to gather relevant information, failing to use their (massive) resources keenly and with singular purpose, and failing to accurately report key events and timelines. The Internet, on the other hand, in a matter of a few hours, crafted an incredibly detailed, compelling, and (mostly) accurate account of what was taking place, including a heartrending post that shot to the top of Reddit hours before it was anywhere else:


If the uprisings in Iran and the Arab Spring whet our appetites for the next evolution in how the news gets reported, the events in Massachusetts on April 19 may well prove to be the main course.

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Posted on April 20, 2013 .