Cross­ing the line

The Globe - - OPINION -

With the advent of smart­phones and tablets, of cace­book 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 SURIHVVLR­naOV Ln WKH fiHOG, wKR KaYH aFWuaOOy VWuGLHG WKH 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 facts to EH YHUL­fiHG. 7KaW’V wKaW JLYHV LW FUHGLELOLWy. -RuU­naOLVP LV nRW FRn­jec­ture 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 jarathon bomb­ings, and it touched the life of a jain iine fam­ily in a very real and painful way. The Tri­pathis of Rad­nor had been des­per­ately search­ing since mid-jarch for their son, 22-yearold Brown rniver­sity stu­dent Su­nil Tripathi, a 2MM8 Rad­nor High School grad­u­ate who van­ished in Prov­i­dence, R.f.

Af­ter au­thor­i­ties re­leased pho­tos of the two young men they 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. crom there the “story” was posted to an fn­ter­net site called Red­dit with spec­u­la­tion that the miss­ing man was, in fact, 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 be­ing con­fiUPHG Ey LnYHVWLJaWRUV RU Ln any RWKHU way RI­fiFLaOOy OLnNHG WR WKH 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 about be­ing fiUVW Ln UHSRUWLnJ WKLnJV WKHy GRn’W OHW WKH IaFWV JHW Ln WKH way RI a good story.”

:LWKLn a IHw KRuUV, RI­fiFLaOV an­nRunFHG WKaW WKH VuVSHFWV KaG EHHn LGHnWL­fiHG aV CKHFKHn EURWKHUV 7aPHUOan anG DzKRNKaU 7VaU­naev. But for the Tri­pathis, the dam­age had al­ready been done. ln their cace­book page called “Help us cind 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 jarathon bomb­ings was Su­nil.

“We are grate­ful to all of you who have fol­lowed us on cace­book, Twit­ter, and Red­dit — sup­port­ing us over the re­cent hours.

“kow 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 help us finG RuU JHnWOH, ORYLnJ, anG WKRuJKWIuO 6unLO.”

Sadly, the fam­ily learned April 2R that a body found in the ProviGHnFH 5LYHU waV WKHLU EHORYHG VRn. 7KHy fi­naOOy KaYH an anVwHU WR the mys­tery, though it is not the one they had hoped for. jay they VRPHKRw finG SHaFH Ln WKH PLGVW RI WKHLU JULHI.

cor 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

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