The United States has had one of the rougher weeks in its history. First a cowardly attack in Boston killed and maimed those watching runners finish the Boston Marathon and then yesterday (17th April) a fire at a fertilizer factory in Texas caused a huge explosion that has killed an unknown number of people and damaged a large part of the town of West.
As with all horrific events such as these, in the first few hours, information is sparse, vague and often incorrect. Any information is repeatedly reported on news channels and websites, and if there is video of the event, it is continually looped, repeating ad nauseum. With the advent of cell phone cameras, there always seems to be at least one person using their cell phone to record the events that are happening. News channels, such as CNN and the BBC, appeal for eye witness accounts, pictures but especially videos.
If a video clip is only ten seconds long, and the news piece playing the clip is a minute long, the video will be looped, meaning that you will see the event happening six times as the reporter is talking. This happened in both Boston and West. Seemingly words are no longer enough to convey the true horror of the tragedy, in this age of one minute You Tube viral videos and culture of ‘sound bites’ viewers are shown shocking video continually, in much the same way that Alex DeLarge is subjected to horrifying scenes in the movie A Clockwork Orange.
Scenes of blood covered survivors do not enhance the news reporting, rather the effect is almost the opposite. By seeing such video clips over and over, will viewers eventually become used to it, or perhaps anesthetized to its intended effect?
With competition for advertising dollars seemingly first and foremost in the minds of the news media owners and producers, the rush to get the information out first is paramount. Everyone wants to be known for reporting the breaking news, the result of the investigation, or the capture of a suspect and during such events as those that happened this week, the urgency to get to the finish line can blur the distinction between rumour and truth. Descriptions of suspects are circulated when there are indeed no suspects yet.
The New York Post printed a photograph on their front page of video capture of two men who they claimed were the target of a manhunt and that they were suspects. The only problem is that neither man are or were suspects. They are both carrying backpacks, which seems to be the one and only reason that the New York Post claimed that they were persons of interest. Users of internet forums allegedly quickly found the Facebook account of one of the men, possibly opening up the possibility of misguided retaliation.
While it is horrific when someone is killed, interviewing the grand mother of the person cannot be claimed to be news, reporting, or anything else other than gruesome grandstanding. After the tragic loss of a family member, why does the news media expect that the relatives will speak to them? It is heartbreaking enough without seeing an adult unable to speak because of the tears falling down their face. It is not news reporting, it is simply the next step into the world where nothing is off limits in the battle to supply the news the quickest.