Category: media

Ethics and support: What do you want from media?

Ethics and support: What do you want from media?

The opinions herein are mine, not my employer’s. This statement is original to the post, not forced by my employer after the fact.

Edited to add: I had this post scheduled from a couple of weeks ago, and neglected to update as the news came down yesterday of Bari Weiss’ resignation. She was one of the adults in the room on The New York Times Opinion page. But there aren’t very many people who can be described that way. Go read her letter. It’s a good summary of the problems in many of today’s newsrooms.

I hear a lot about how divisive media is. How evil the industry is. To stop paying attention to media. It seems people can’t stop complaining about media, but also can’t stop following along.

I’m not sure what those people are paying attention to, but I’ve been in media (newspapers both in print and online) for two decades, and the vast majority of my colleagues are hard-working, honest go-getters.

I want to examine two things, and take a look at how they can be at odds with each other. The first is support, and by that, I mean monetary support. Unlike, say, China, North Korea or Russia, our news outlets are not state-operated. They are, by design, independent. The founders of our country may not have had radio, television or the internet, but they had news media, and thought it was so important to have a free and independent press that they included it in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The second is ethics. While some people claim that they would prefer to support an ethical media, what they seem to mean is that they’d prefer to support a media institution that confirms their biases. While it’s tough to get people to talk about where they actually spend their money, it’s pretty easy to look at what people are clicking on.


Newspapers used to have two revenue streams: advertising and subscriptions. Advertising — specifically classified advertising — was far and away the more profitable, which is why it took about five years for your average newspaper to go from a quarter to a dollar an issue, while ad costs moved only incrementally.

For cities with multiple papers — which was a lot in the mid-1990s — the paper that was probably going to make it was the paper of record; that is, the one in which courts required legal notices to be filed.

But when everything went online, subscriptions fell off by a lot.

Craigslist sucked up all the classified advertising, at least until newspapers moved their classifieds sections online and started charging next to nothing for ads.

And display ads — the ones you’d see on the pages of the paper as you flipped through — went online and, instead of being paid by the column inch, the papers were paid by page views.

Page views. That meant that in order to get any money, the paper needed you to click on a story.

It didn’t matter what you said you wanted; it mattered what you clicked on. If you said you wanted more positive news but didn’t click on it, the positive news went away.

And that’s how we got to paywalls and click-bait headlines: If you’ll only click on something if it tricks you, well, that’s the only way to get paid.

It’s not fantastic, but the idea that great journalism would stand out didn’t come to bear. Not everyone can win a Pulitzer, or they wouldn’t mean anything. And sometimes you need to know about a car accident or the weather or whatever.

I don’t like the click bait any more than you do, but for what it’s worth, you need to read the whole story, not just the headline. Reading just the headline is how we got to angry and divided in the first place.


The Society of Professional Journalists has a Code of Ethics. It’s somewhat idealist, since it turns out that people won’t really pay for all that much ethical journalism, and the problem with running a business is that you have costs and you need to turn a profit (especially if you’re a publicly traded company).

Don’t be sneaky. Give voice to the voiceless. Expose unethical behavior. There are a lot more, but those are some of my favorites.


If you think journalists are shady now, you should take a look at how journalism was when our Founders decided we needed a free press.

Ben Franklin used to write a column in his paper, write an argument against it in someone else’s paper under a fake name, and then respond with an argument for it in his own paper under someone else’s name. He might have been America’s original troll.

There was a whole genre called yellow journalism. Think click bait, but with no actual truth in the story, and not even an argument using the subject’s manipulated words to attempt to back up claims. Just plain old fiction.


I feel like I shouldn’t have to defend the need for a free and independent press, but I should probably make the point. When the government handles all reporting on the government, they tell you whatever they want. You can’t even search for Tiananmen Square from an IP address within China. When you control the narrative, you control the people.

An antagonistic press is important. And let me be clear: Journalists should be antagonistic to all leaders. Report truthfully, don’t play stupid gotcha games, but every decision should get a thorough questioning.

Afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted. That’s our job.

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The role of sports in a post-fact world

The role of sports in a post-fact world

Note: I work in the news industry. Opinions herein are my own and are not endorsed by my employer.

If the world were “normal” right now, we’d be watching baseball. The NBA playoffs would be going on. The NHL would begin its long, slow march toward the Stanley Cup. Nobody would know anything about Bill Belichick’s dog. We’d be into Triple Crown season.

This past Saturday would have been the running of the Kentucky Derby (it will be run in September). I’ve never been to the Derby, but I’ve been to the horse track, and it is a supremely weird environment — so weird that it launched Hunter S. Thompson.

There are two distinct crowds at the track. One owns or rents covered boxes. They wear gaudy suits and elaborate hats. They sip bourbon — mint juleps specifically at the Kentucky Derby — and place bets and food and drink orders via a monitor at their box. The other drags coolers full of cheap beer and camping chairs in, places bets at windows with tellers or ATM-type machines and watches races on giant monitors; sometimes there’s a little bit of standing room in one portion at the bottom of the grandstands that house the boxes. They wear dirty jeans and sleeveless t-shirts.

The actual sporting event is a series of 2-minute sprints, run every half hour by horses carrying jockeys. The worst horses are either put out to stud, or, if injured, euthanized. The best horses get to run their sprints again in a few weeks. The jockeys, trainers and owners of the winning horses are celebrated.

But here’s something about a horse race: A horse crosses the finish line first. Sometimes it takes a camera and a second look to see who it was, but once the determination is made, that’s it. The rules are everyone has to wait until the gun to leave, you can’t do stuff like collide intentionally, and the first one across the line wins. Swale won the 1984 Kentucky Derby. Funny Cide won in 2003. Those are facts. If you argue that Funny Cide won in 1972, you’re wrong — that was Riva Ridge. If you argue that Michael Jordan won in 1984, you’re wrong. He is a retired professional basketball player, not a horse.

Bob Costas talks to Cal Fussman on Big Questions about sports and news and the current political environment.
If for some reason you don’t know who Bob Costas is, he’s been a sports commentator forever. Football, baseball, the Olympics, the Kentucky Derby — he’s done it all, and he has dozens of Emmys for it, and probably hundreds of other awards. And then at some point, he started adding commentary.

Maybe you don’t want commentary with your sports, but his commentary was always reasoned, thought-through and supported by examples. By facts.


The news media industry has changed a lot since I entered it a little over 20 years ago, and even more since I started paying attention as a kid.

I remember lying on our living room sofa in 1992 when the U.S. attacked Iraq in retaliation for that country’s invasion of Kuwait. We turned on CNN and watched the missiles fly live, the first time something like that was available.

The research on media influence through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s said that media told people what to think about, but not what to think. In nerd terms, salience, not valence. For example, we would talk about whatever was in the paper or whatever Walter Cronkite was talking about, but we as readers, listeners and watchers formed our own opinions.

I don’t know what the new research says, but it’s clear that some outlets are fans of teams (political parties) rather than watchdogs. There’s also this new thing happening with the internet. With unlimited news hole and sites getting paid for views, it behooves sites — regardless of whether they belong to newspapers, TV or radio stations — to write about whatever’s trending on Google, and to get it fast without independent verification. It also leads to a lot of story aggregation, wherein perhaps a site like TMZ reports something and then a reporter for another outlet writes a story about what TMZ said, without doing any original reporting.

The other thing this period in journalism has brought is a much wider competition. The newspaper in Buffalo, New York, used to only have to compete with the TV and radio stations in Buffalo. Now, that newspaper is also competing with other regional papers like those in Syracuse and Albany, as well as all the news outlets in Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Sacramento and everywhere else.


We seem to be in a post-fact environment right now. I’ve been writing about this since before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, but the reality is that truth has been politicized.

Remember alternative facts?

In his discussion with Fussman, Costas points out that you can argue about whether not playing against people of color boosted Babe Ruth’s stats, but you certainly can’t declare that Ruth wasn’t a good player. Much like the Kentucky Derby winners, there’s a truth to sports that isn’t subjective.

The return of baseball after 9/11 was the mark of some normalcy. David Ortiz declaring Boston to be “our fucking city” was the start of healing after the Boston Marathon bombing. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, pro sports are looking at a $12 billion revenue loss, but when they start back up, we’ll know things are on the way back.

And when things are on the way back, we know we’ll argue about Red Sox vs. Yankees, Tom Brady as a Buc, and all the other things sports bring. But we won’t argue about whether the Red Sox are a basketball team, whether Tom Brady is one of the worst quarterbacks to play football or whether ice hockey should be played on horseback.

Play on.

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Coronavirus: Personal responsibility, public responsibility, truth and vetting

Coronavirus: Personal responsibility, public responsibility, truth and vetting

It’s been a crazy couple of months, right?

It’s so difficult to vet information about something as confusing and fast-moving as a new virus — that’s what this new coronavirus, COVID-19, is — and knowing what to do and when to do it is tough.

The most level-headed discussion I’ve heard so far is Joe Rogan’s podcast with Michael Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota. Keep in mind that the up-to-the-minute facts will be outdated, but you can’t avoid that when you’re just having an off-the-cuff conversation.

There are a few things we should consider, and some things that will be interesting in retrospect.

We talked about vetting good information on JKWD a bit ago, so let’s start there.

I will admit that I have no concept of what the “average” person is getting for news about coronavirus. I work closely with 10 newspaper-affiliated websites for 40 hours a week. I probably see 100 coronavirus-related stories per shift, in addition to the items I seek out in my preferred local, state and national media outlets, my Twitter feed (including the governor of Georgia, the CDC and WHO) and whatever else happens to cross my eyes and ears while I’m not working.

Most of you probably aren’t getting 750-plus pieces of information a week unless you’re sitting there glued to it at all times, and if you are, you should probably stop that immediately. It’s exhausting, and it’s going to be around for a while.

But I did talk to someone at a local business recently, who had no idea that Italy was entirely shut down and had thousands of deaths.

If you want to be informed about this — and I think you should be; I’ll address that when I discuss personal responsibility — don’t go overboard, but choose wisely. Read your local newspaper website, and maybe a couple local TV websites. Check the website of the biggest newspaper in your state, and, if it doesn’t have good capital coverage, the site of the paper in the capital area (in many states, the biggest market is the capital, but that’s not true across the board — Illinois and Pennsylvania are two examples). Check traditionally reliable sources like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

If you want international coverage, the BBC is always a good place to turn.

Find places that report the facts. If they make recommendations and/or criticisms, make sure they’re backed up with reported facts, not viewpoints from politicians. For example, “three people died in such-and-such city” is a fact. “Only a few people died in such-and-such city” is a viewpoint. Tell the families of those three people that it was “only a few people.” Now extrapolate that to the hundreds that are dying a day in some places.

It’s easy to get people to freak out too much or not enough by putting a viewpoint on our facts. But people are smarter than we give them credit for — let’s give them the facts and let them make informed decisions.


Let’s talk responsibility, and two types, which I’ll call personal and public.

Personal responsibility pertains to the things you owe yourself — information gathering, self-reflection, good habits, etc.

Pubic responsibility pertains to the things you owe to others — to not infect your neighbors and family, to tell people the truth as you understand it, etc.

Most adults will probably get this virus, even if they show mild or no symptoms (that’s important because you can have no symptoms and pass it along to people you come in contact with). Flu pandemics seem the model we can learn from (long read: a NIH workshop summary on Spanish flu of the early 20th century). Some 1.4 billion people tested positive the H1N1 flu (about 20% of the population of the world, including minors) a little over a decade ago, and at the high end of estimates, killed about 575,000 people (about .04%).

If you figure that you didn’t get tested if you had no symptoms or only had mild cold-like symptoms, a lot more people had it.

With COVID-19, we’re also having a problem with getting enough tests, so our current numbers are underreported because technically, if you can’t get tested, you don’t have it.

As I’m writing this, Georgia’s (USA, not the country) reported cases are increasing between 40 and 50 percent per day. I know of one person who said she couldn’t get tested at a local health center despite being immunocompromised and showing symptoms because they didn’t have any tests. The local health department said they were waiting on tests, and the local office of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was also waiting on tests. So if some high-risk people aren’t able to get tests, you can see how most people who are asymptomatic or only get mild cases (which is about 80 percent of people who test positive, by the way) won’t get tested.

No matter how high the numbers climb, we won’t be reporting all cases.


Centers for Disease Control info & guidelines | World Health Organization information


Even health professionals don’t seem to be able to predict how the virus will hit any one individual. We know that the respiratory repercussions seem to be really bad, so people with COPD or asthma or who are smokers are likely to get hit pretty hard, but sometimes they’ll get a mild case.

Which means that no matter how health you are, you can’t predict how it will actually hit you if you get it. So try not to get it.

And in case you are asymptomatic, you can’t predict how it will affect other people if you pass it along, so try not to. You’re probably going to pass it along to people you live with. But there are some easy steps you can take to make sure you don’t give it to anyone else — steps like stay the heck away from them.

We have an elderly neighbor. She has adult children who stop by and check in on her, and I imagine they call her, too. When we go to the grocery store, we call her to see if she needs anything.

Our responsibility to her in delivering things to her should be to wash our hands, wipe down the goods we’re bringing her, put them in a separate bag, place them outside her door, and ring her bell or call her to let her know they’re there.

Our responsibility to ourselves in that case would also be to wash our hands again after touching her bell.

It’s not that difficult, but it’s important.

We also owe it to ourselves, if we wish to stay healthy, to only go do important things, like getting food and medicines. Yeah, it stinks staying home. But think about things like going out to eat. Do employees at your favorite restaurants have paid sick leave? Are they likely to stay home if they’re mildly symptomatic — say a little sore throat and a sniffle, like if they had a cold? Probably not, if they don’t have much in the way of sick days.

Our trusted officials (such as elected and appointed members of government, but also the heads of organizations like hospitals and urgent cares and shopping malls and the sorts of places people gather) also have a responsibility to us. We’ve asked them to lead in times of crisis, and this is most certainly one. Give us facts. When you give us directives and/or suggestions, back them up with facts, because people will be more compliant if they understand why.

Viruses aren’t partisan — they don’t stop outside your mouth and ask who you voted for before deciding whether to infect you — so neither should the directives handed down by particularly government.


When this pandemic ends, there will be some interesting things to study, from a social science perspective (we know that biologists and virologists and geneticists will do their thing).

• What traits of leaders did the best and worst at containing the virus? China, where the virus started, was slow to admit its existence. The US, fairly far away from the epicenter of the pandemic, didn’t take it seriously at the start.

• What cultural traits did the best and worst at containing the virus? Did people stay home when told more in collectivist cultures than in individualist cultures?

• What cultural and leadership traits correlated with the least economic interruption and quickest recovery? What measures had the highest impact, both positive and negative?

• From a media perspective, how does this new era of reader-driven content selection and bottomless news hole affect coverage, especially deep reporting?


Stay healthy and safe, folks, and don’t overwhelm yourself with too much information.

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Enemy of the people

Enemy of the people

I’d been thinking about this as a blog post lately, and it turns out that a bunch of news organizations writing op/eds today so I figured I’d get on my horse laptop and get the thing written to coincide with others’ pieces.

President Donald Trump, while he’s famously yelled about “fake news,” went so far early in his administration as to call media an enemy of the people.

Enemy.

As if it were my goal, as a journalist for a major media outlet, to see other Americans die. Because that’s what enemies want, right?

I think the news media do a lot of things incorrectly. We give mass murderers notoriety by naming them and profiling their lives, when so often they do evil purely for the sake of that notoriety. We over-report on small, scary problems (like Ebola, which kills about 2 people in the U.S. a year, usually after they return from abroad) and under-report on major ones (like the flu, which kills upward of 20,000 Americans a year). We’ve eliminated layers of editing and fact-checking in the name of publishing quickly, so we publish many more corrections than should be necessary.

But we still do an awful lot of good.

The ha-ha version of how journalists describe their job is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. While most journalists report leaning left politically (somewhere around three-quarters of writers in the newspaper world), if they’re doing their job well, they (we) come off as anti-establishment more than anything else.

My journalistic training sent me out with the basics. Find the truth. If there’s a disagreement, talk to all sides, but don’t pick a side — just report them all (but verify if someone’s not telling the truth, and report accurately).

I’ll give you an example from early in my career.

The housekeeping staff at Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., voted to unionize by a narrow margin. I was invited to the press conference/union rally. Afterward, some of the housekeepers who had voted against unionizing waved me over to give me their story.

I went through the facts, and was careful to give roughly equal print space to both groups.

The day after the paper came out, while I was out on assignment, my editor told me a group of people in favor of the union vote stopped by to voice their disappointment in my story. He asked if I’d reported anything incorrectly, and they said no, they were just angry about the balance.

That’s a small-scale, nutshell look at what we’re supposed to do.

Comfort the afflicted: I gave voice to the minority, who were feeling downtrodden. Afflict the comfortable: Giving voice to the minority — even though I gave equal play to the majority — so upset the majority that they gathered a few people and drove 20 minutes out to the office to complain.

If you’re feeling generally angry about news media right now, take a look at the rest of your life. You’re probably fairly comfortable and happy. If we’re doing our job, we’re a thorn in your side.

If you find yourself generally happy about the direction news takes, you’re probably feeling uncomfortable in the rest of your life.

But if you’re honest with yourself, even if you disagree with much of what you read in the media, do you honestly believe that journalists are your enemy?

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What’s the way out? Research in media, racism and lobotomies

What’s the way out? Research in media, racism and lobotomies

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“Are you a cop, too?”

“No, I’m just a reporter,” I said, grabbing my notebook and recorder, climbing out of the front seat of the cruiser. I didn’t know how to talk to a 16-year-old who’d just been placed in the back of a police car.

Several hours earlier, we had pulled over next to a double-parked SUV and told them to move. Here it was now, mid-afternoon, and we went on a high-speed chase across Holyoke, Massachusetts, because the teenagers in that car had been driving around with an air gun, telling people it was real.

When the cop pulled the SUV over, he waited a few moments for backup and then approached the car. The kids had stashed the gun under the back seat, but told the police when they saw it that it was real.

This was the sort of thing that got 12-year-old Tamir Rice killed by police in Cleveland.

Maybe these folks were better cops, maybe the kids were just lucky. All that happened was they got arrested.

I was on a ride-along that day. I showed up at the police station around 7 a.m., signed a waiver, met the officer I’d be riding with, and climbed in his cruiser. He said that Mondays were typically slow, that we would more than likely park near the railroad tracks and ticket a couple of drivers with expired registrations, maybe get out of the car and talk to some of the merchants.

He couldn’t have been more wrong about how the day went.

There was a foot chase, there was a car chase, there was a fatal accident.

It took me two whole days to go over my notes and my tapes and get a succinct (OK, maybe that’s not a good word for it) 120-column inch article (about 4,000 words — the equivalent of a 16-page paper).

This was years ago, before we were putting our stories online; only some news outlets were moving their stories from the paper to the web, and they certainly weren’t writing with the intent of getting their stuff out there fast.

Twitter wasn’t even Odeo yet. Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school. The World Trade towers were still standing.

There were no immediate public reactions unless you were physically in someone’s presence. There was no YouTube.

It’s not a time I’m nostalgic for. I’m just trying to paint a picture of the world we lived in. Most of you remember that time, but you might not really remember how different day-to-day life was. You might not remember what news consumption was like. You might not remember what our interactions were like.

Nobody immediately sprung into reflexive reaction like we did in Ferguson, in Staten Island, in Baton Rouge, in Charleston, in Minneapolis, in Charlotte. Nobody got on Twitter to shout. Police departments didn’t get body camera footage out to the world in a single swoop.

We relied on storytellers to gather information and tell it to us.

***

Chuck Palahniuk’s short story “Zombies,” part of his 2015 collection Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread, about kids who are too smart to ever be happy, so they start a trend of self-lobotomizing using AED kits from schools and gyms and airports.

It reminded me of our hero in the film Pi, Max Cohen, played by Sean Gullette. Exhausted from trying to find a pattern in pi, overwrought by migraines and hounded by both Hasidic Jews and Wall Street firms, Max lobotomizes himself with a drill.

When asked how they made the scene look so realistic, director Darren Aranofsky is fond of saying, “We did one take then rushed Sean to the hospital.”

***

Who are we now?

We are all journalists, inasmuch as a journalist is one who journals. We’re all doing it in public, too.

We are not all reporters, however. We react, but we don’t necessarily report what’s happening. We let someone else do that, then we journal a link to it.

One of the things that I learned while I was a reporter was not just to tell the story, but to give it some context. Not just why did it happen, but why is it important? What are the implications for us as a community? As a species?

We’re supposed to have some perspective on things, but in a world that demands everything now, now, now, it’s difficult to do enough research to make it worthwhile. A lot of elder statesmen are getting out of Dodge before it becomes entirely impossible to have a reasoned, researched discussion.

So far it’s difficult, but yet impossible.

***

We need an exit strategy.

I’m not talking about anything drastic — not death or explosions or anything.

Hopefully not lobotomies.

We need to take a step back, to slow down, to give things time. To allow ourselves the opportunity for reflection, for observation, for discussion.

In just two weeks, the US has an election. It’s an important one: It’s between (primarily) two candidates who are not particularly well-liked among the general populace. They are very likely the last people of their generation who will run for president.

There’s a half-generation — the one President Obama belongs to — that will be prominent for a few election cycles.

The next younger half-generation, the one I belong to, is called Generation X. We’re famously derided for not giving a crap about anything.

Some of that comes from the apathy toward community our parents showed. While Baby Boomers drastically changed the world we live in, they also stayed away from religious groups, recreational sports leagues and social and professional groups like Rotary and Toastmasters clubs, among others. A Harvard professor did a giant study on it.

Gen Xers may or may not get into politics, and if not, we’re going to see those Obama’s age in politics for about 20 more years and then Millennials will take office. That’s the generation that grew up with mobile phones and ubiquitous high-speed internet; the generation coming out of college to have job titles that didn’t exist a few years ago.

We have no idea what the world will look like in another couple of presidential cycles. But if it keeps speeding up the way it is, we might need to worry about exit velocity.

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Lessons from Sandy Hook Elementary: When to shut up, when to not

Lessons from Sandy Hook Elementary: When to shut up, when to not

On Friday, Dec. 14, a young man killed his mother, then walked into an elementary school, killed 20 children (all six and seven years old) and six more adults, then killed himself.

I found out about this a few hours after it happened, while I was setting up to play racquetball. When I came home later in the afternoon, I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me.

One of the things I found out that time outside of news has taught me is that I can feel, intensely, even.

I was a general assignment reporter on 9/11. It happened on a Tuesday, and our weekly papers came out on Monday and Tuesday, so we wouldn’t be going to press again for another few days. I didn’t really have anything to write about, even though it was obviously big news, and a life-marking event for my generation.

But I was mostly numb to emotion for a few days. When I found out a friend had died, I took a couple hours off of work and played music, music that she’d enjoyed, songs she’d sung with me dozens of times. Generally, though I just felt like I should be informing someone of something.

In Daniel Schorr’s autobiography, he says one of the things that made him a great journalist was that he felt emotionally removed from everything that happened, and able to report on it objectively.

I felt the same way about my ability to be emotionally removed. But I just couldn’t be that afternoon. And let’s be honest, some people want journalists to show they’re human sometimes.

It was an interesting night, not only because we had different information coming from different sources throughout the night, but also because we have 12 different sites that we work with (when I say “we,” I mean our team – I work from home, but there are always three or four others working from their homes and we’re in constant contact), sites in different locations with different things important to them. We have them in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana; in Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley; in New Jersey and on Staten Island; all across Michigan; in industrial cities like Springfield, Mass., Syracuse and Cleveland; and in that liberal Mecca Portland, Ore..

These are communities with very different populations and very different priorities. And they all love their children.

If you followed the news at all over the weekend, you know that it was pretty much wall-to-wall coverage for the first day and a half, and now it’s more of a human interest angle (funerals and profiles). During the first 12 or 15 hours or so, there was so much misinformation out there, much of propagated by news outlets, that it reminded me that sometimes we need to shut up and look for truth sometimes. And in some cases, maybe shutting up isn’t the best route to take.

Media jumped all over information and drew conclusions without any real information. We know now that the shooter was Adam Lanza. He had his brother Ryan’s ID on him, though, and some media outlets didn’t think to account for the fact that maybe the person and the driver’s license wouldn’t match. Far from being dead in Connecticut, Ryan Lanza was wondering why people were writing shocking things on his Facebook wall. He was on the bus on the way home from work.

For several hours, the media had the wrong Lanza brother. Ryan deleted his Facebook account, and I’m sure there will be plenty of fallout from this as the months progressed. Don’t be surprised if there are civil lawsuits.

An interesting side note on jumping the gun like that. Even in 1694, news organizations were concerned about getting confirmation. When did that stop, and why?

Lesson for the media: Sometimes you need to shut up and figure out what the facts are before you go blabbing out any old information you think you have.

You know who else should have shut up? Some people who just want their football. President Obama was in Newtown to deliver his standard “America is weeping with you, something must be done” speech on Sunday night [aside: Don’t get me wrong, that’s important for the people of Newtown to hear, I just wish we’d have someone speak from the heart instead of delivering the script sometime]. He interrupted the broadcast of the Sunday night football game for about 10 minutes.

Someone tweeted, “Get that nigger off the TV, we want to watch football.” Yeah, that got him kicked off his college football team. He deleted his Twitter account, and one of the people he tweeted at had to delete his account, too, what with all the hate mail he was getting.

Another person he tweeted at in that post reminded people that he can’t be responsible for every stupid thing the people he knows say.

That guy who got kicked off his football team, though, was definitely not alone in his sentiments. I hope other people suffered some consequences of not shutting up.

On the other end of the spectrum is the National Rifle Association (NRA), the country’s biggest gun lobby. Just a few days after they thanked everybody for getting them to 1.7 million likes on Facebook, they pulled down their Facebook page.

They also went silent on Twitter for a few days, which is common for them in the wake of mass shootings in the U.S.

If you want to stay relevant, I think you have to say something, even if it is just a “We’re mourning, too.” I think it’s really telling that they take a “let’s go hide in the corner until everybody focuses on something else for a while” approach to these events.

Lastly, I want to mention something that might point to the growing maturity of the Internet as a medium.

You might have seen your friends posting a plea to stop stigmatizing mental illness called I am Adam Lanza’s mother.

Well, one mother went back trough the author’s personal blog and ripper her a new one for the things she was really saying about her kids in public.

Instead of this becoming a war, like that Oatmeal-Buzzfeed thing that happened, the two parents got together to start a discussion and find some common ground.

We, as a species, and we, as a culture, and we, as the media, have a lot to learn still. Mostly, I think it has to do with listening. If we listen to each other, we’re going to be able to prevent some of these incidents in the first place.

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