Crossing the line between rumor and fact
With the advent of smartphones and tablets, of Facebook and Twitter, some believe everyone these days is a journalist. There’s even been a phrase coined for this new developmentW “citizen journalist.” That’s opposed to “professional journalism.”
0any SURIHssLRnaOs Ln WKH fiHOd, wKR KaYH aFWuaOOy sWudLHd the craft and practiced it for years, have derided the trend. They point out that being able to instantly post a thought or a photo on the fnternet is a far cry from journalism. Journalism requires IaFWs WR EH YHULfiHd. 7KaW’s wKaW JLYHs LW FUHdLELOLWy. -RuUnaOLsP is not conjecture or speculation or a wild leap of faith. Sometimes reporters and editors make mistakes, but journalism is supposed to be about reality — objective reality. The phrase “nothing but the facts, ma’am” comes to mind.
That dichotomy was on vivid display in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, and it touched the life of a Main iine family in a real and painful way. The Tripathis of Radnor had been desperately searching since mid-March for their son, 22-year-old Brown University student Sunil Tripathi, a 2008 Radnor High School graduate who vanished in Providence, R.f.
After authorities released photos of the two young men believed to be the bombers, speculation was rampant, especially online. That night, someone thought they heard Tripathi’s name mentioned on a Boston police scanner. From there the “story” was posted to an fnternet site called Reddit with speculation that the missing man was one of the men police were looking for.
lvernight, the rumor went viral. The family’s home was surrounded by news vans and the rumor was repeated as fact on local radio. All this happened without Tripathi’s name ever beLnJ FRnfiUPHd Ey LnYHsWLJaWRUs RU Ln any RWKHU way RIfiFLaOOy linked to the probe.
Radnor police Superintendent William Colarulo began getting media phone calls at 4 a.m. “ft’s unfortunate that people rush to judgment and that rumors run rampant,” he said. “The media also has to hold some accountability. They’re so worried aERuW EHLnJ fiUsW Ln UHSRUWLnJ WKLnJs WKHy dRn’W OHW WKH IaFWs JHW in the way of a good story.”
:LWKLn a IHw KRuUs, RIfiFLaOs annRunFHd WKH susSHFWs Kad EHHn LdHnWLfiHd as CKHFKHn EURWKHUs 7aPHUOan and D]KRNKaU 7saUnaev. But for the Tripathis, the damage had been done. ln their Facebook page called “Help us Find Sunil Tripathi,” they wroteW
“A tremendous and painful amount of attention has been cast on our beloved Sunil Tripathi in the past twelve hours.
“We have known unequivocally all along that neither individual suspected as responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings was Sunil. We are grateful to all of you who have followed us on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit — supporting us over the recent hours.
“Now more than ever our greatest strength comes from your enduring support. We thank all of you who have reached out to our family and ask that you continue to raise awareness and to KHOS us find RuU JHnWOH, ORYLnJ, and WKRuJKWIuO 6unLO.”
Sadly, the family learned April 25 that a body found in the 3URYLdHnFH 5LYHU was WKHLU EHORYHd sRn. 7KHy finaOOy KaYH an answer to the mystery, though it is not the one they had hoped IRU. 0ay WKHy sRPHKRw find SHaFH Ln WKH PLdsW RI WKHLU JULHI.
For the rest of us, the episode will serve as a grim warning. fn this age of instant communication, there’s a wide gap between “information” and “journalism.” ft’s unfortunate that so many fell into that chasm.
21st Century Media News Service