Last Friday afternoon, I was telling my coworker about this ridiculous video of the Ostrich Pillow I found online and he told me that there had been a school shooting in the States. And the victims were young. Really young.
By late afternoon, almost everyone in the office had heard about it but strangely enough, everyone had heard something different. Depending on the news source, some of had heard that shooter was a parent. Another heard that it was the child of a teacher.
That’s the problem with the insta-news phenomenon created by 24 hour news channels like CNN and social media sites like Twitter. In the interest of getting news FAST, we’ve had to sacrifice accuracy.
It used to be that the first few days after a news story, we’d slowly get all the facts. Overtime, our memories betray us, the facts get muddled and we’re left with only a hazy recollection of the who and what. We usually forget the why.
But it’s a reverse cycle these days. The initial news is a cloud of rumours gathered from tweets, shell-shocked witnesses and speculating TV experts. And over the period of days, week and sometimes years, we finally learn what went down.
A while back, I read the book Columbine by Dave Cullen who must have spent an unbelievable amount of time researching the high school shooting. He dispels a lot of the myths created by the media reporting of the Columbine shooting.
Cullen pointed out that while media was relying on witnesses (who were trapped in the school) to give them a first hand account, they failed to realize that the same witnesses were also watching the news unfold on television. So despite there only being two gunmen, numerous witnesses said they saw a whole group of shooters.
Because that’s what they were saying on TV.
You can’t blame the witnesses. They were scared — probably the most scared they’ve ever been. Our brains are wired to fill in the blanks in moments like these.
But as consumers of the news, we need to recognize that initial reports of news is no better than gossip. And maybe media has the responsibility of telling us that they are reporting on hear say.
Because what else will stop us from writing history based on rumours?