Today is a day to mourn, to wonder why, to search for strength … and to shake our heads at the state of journalism in the era of the 24/7 news cycle.
Sure, law enforcement should get the blame for releasing the name Ryan Lanza to the media rather than Adam Lanza, but the police weren’t the ones passing along lurid, unsourced details and sticking microphones in the faces of 8-year-olds who just lost nearly 20 of their schoolmates.
The harsh truth of disasters, natural and man-made, is that we don’t know many details right away. It’s not sports, which lends itself to live-blogging. (And if you’ve read my MMA live-blogs, you know we sometimes need to correct those as well.) You can have hours go by with no new details. As they said repeatedly on NewsRadio: “Still no news on that disabled train.”
When CNN ushered in the era of 24/7 news, it had a bit of variety. The network would use its time for explanatory journalism, something that may be officially dead if Ann Curry replaces Anderson Cooper in prime time. It wasn’t just a rundown and repeat of the latest tragedy. If something like this happened, sure, it would focus on that. But I don’t recall the frenzy, the need to dig up details and present them as newsworthy simply because the media abhor a vacuum.
Now we have several 24/7 networks and a nearly infinite number of websites. And most of them judge themselves on speed. Not accuracy. Not the newsworthiness of the details they’re dredging up.
I first learned of today’s tragedy while walking past a TGIFridays in a mall. They had several screens hovering over the lunch crowd.
How do we eat while these images are replaying constantly in our line of sight? Are we somehow helping the victims and their families by ensuring that people can’t grab a bite to eat without seeing intrusive pictures of children and their parents on their darkest day?
We can’t pull the plug, of course. The cable networks could all go out of business tomorrow, and we’d still have people hounding every “Ryan Lanza” on Facebook or Twitter.
But we should allow ourselves some restraint. No amount of fretting over the latest incremental, unconfirmed reports on Friday is going to bring anyone back, heal anyone’s pain or prevent tragedies in the future. To gain true perspective, we’ll have to be patient.