Graphic Images in the News: The Boston Marathon Bombing Lesson

April 15, 2013 is a day many of us will never forget, the day of the Boston Marathon Bombings. While many were there to experience the terror most of us can only identify with this terror attack by the images and coverage on our news and social media outlets. I remember typing the hashtags #BostonStrong and #BostonMarathon into my Instagram account on the day of the Boston Marathon. Within an instant thousands of images flooded in. Some of these images were showing respect but some of the images were downright graphic. I am not one for blood and the amount of images showing injuries was disturbing. I guess I can only blame myself since I am the one who searched these hashtags on social media, but part of me believes there should be some sort of mediation when tragedies happen and people take to social media. Boston_Marathon_bombing_first_bomb_site_54_minute_before_explosion

People aren’t going to social media just to post content anymore; they’re online to gain visibility. Throughout the coverage of the Boston Marathon Bombing news networks like CNN asked viewers to tweet/share images at the scene using a specific hashtag. I remember going to CNN.com and viewing these images, again more filled with serious injuries. I completely understand, this is a real world terror attack with serious implications but organizations must remember their audience and those involved when reporting on tragedies.  This is sensitive material that should be treated with care.

One graphic image that went viral showed a man being pushed on a wheelchair missing some of his leg. You can see the man’s face. You can almost feel his pain. You can sense the urgency and terror that occurred at the finishline on that day. You can understand the seriousness of the event. It gave me goose bumps the first time I saw the picture. This is perhaps the reason why many news organizations chose to use the picture during their coverage of the Boston Marathon Bombing. While the image evokes so many emotions is it ethically right to broadcast it across major news networks?

When this question was posed to me I immediately thought “no.” There is doctor/patient confidentiality and while this happened in a public space this man’s health is private. There is no reason to show the state of his health on national television.

The second thought that popped into my head was “what about the audience.” Coverage of the tragedy wasn’t just occurring during the primetime hours when children are usually asleep, it was 24/7 and everyone was glued to the television. I’m sure minors saw images and heard things that were not appropriate during this coverage. News outlets must remember their ethics in these situations and report what is good for the general public, including minors.

There were many mistakes that occurred in the news world during the Boston Marathon coverage. From misinformation to graphic images, we can learn from. I truly believe images graphic in nature should not used in television. It is not just for the victim or the audience. I hope in the future the FCC will enforce guidelines that are stricter on graphic images and victim’s privacy.

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Why Data Mining?

Data-mining-graphicScary, creepy, invasive…these are a few words that come to my mind when I think of “data mining”. It worries me just how much information websites have about me just based on simple Internet practices I overlook (i.e. liking something on Facebook). In today’s culture I guess this is something I am just going to have to accept. But could companies be doing more to make this topic less scary for consumers?

I believe brands need to be upfront and honest when it comes to data mining. Many people have the wrong impression about this resource and what it’s used for. My parents are a prime example. They refuse to buy anything online, don’t use Internet banking, and don’t share too much information about themselves on social media. The harsh reality they refuse to accept is that even though they are very careful with their personal information companies are still practicing data mining on them. If companies made data mining less ambiguous and made it clear to users what was being done with their information and what information they were collecting I believe people like my parents would share more.

I completely understand the purpose of having data mining. If it can save me money, increase business, create expansion, detect fraud and lower my taxes then please be my guest to whatever information I can give you. It’s when companies are just collecting my information, not disclosing what they are gathering, and only influencing me to buy more products that raise some concerns for me. It’s not only a worry but an annoyance on many social media sites (specifically Facebook).

The Importance of Accuracy

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I can defiantly see how journalists can feel threatened by social media. When you think about it, anyone can be a journalist these days. Social media allows anyone to break news but is their news factual? Journalists need to employ tools to combat all of the noise on social media and hold the journalism “pledge”: report the facts.

I had never heard of geocodes before this week’s lecture and I have to say, they are so cool! Think of how many more sources journalists could if they used this tool. Better yet, think of how many sources they could check! With limited Twitter users enabling geocodes in their tweets I realize the limitations this tool presents. Hopefully more emphasis is placed on geocodes and it is utilized more in the future!

Another new concept presented in this week’s lecture: reverse search. The giant squid example proves just how important it is to check the validity of imagery on social media. I was unaware this was even possible. During the Boston Marathon bombing I saw so many images with extreme captions on social media. Seeing as this situation was a very extreme one the captions on these images seemed feasible. As more information came out the more I learned some of the images were just not true. When situations like these happen news outlets should take the time to investigate images so false reporting does not occur.

To answer the question posed in the lecture accuracy should be the most important priority for journalists. When news is breaking and journalists want to use social media to report it I think the best practices to still ensure accuracy are to use verified accounts and geocodes. Bottom line: if you can’t confirm a story don’t post about it. As our “Verifying Tweets When News Breaks” article states, it’s more important to get it right than to post it first. Trust is such a hard thing to gain with news viewers, why risk breaking it with a story that can’t be verified?

Sometimes mistakes happen…if a news organization accidently reports something that is not accurate I believe it is extremely important to address it, not delete it. Every once in a while when watching the news I will hear reporters correct themselves if they reported something that later proved to be incorrect. The same should be practiced on social media. Journalists should say sorry, report the correct facts, and post a link with a source verifying this information.

Bottom line: always verify and always be accurate.