Saturday, April 20, 2013

News Media Then and Now


My husband's first day of vacation. There's a garden filled with October leaves, but he takes a rest in the middle of the day instead with his furry entourage.  Call him Dr. Dolittle. Like many of us, he didn't get much sleep lately.



Well, the past few days have meant no writing or reading for me.

  I'm pretty sure this has been a pivotal few days in the history of media, what with the convergence of social media and 24 hour news media covering a high-profile crime, whose significance (for those untouched by the tragedy) has yet to be determined.

Salon.com has an article that says that closing down all of Boston yesterday  played right into the criminals' hands, giving them publicity. True.

But what was the alternative?

The Boston Police strike me as having done a stellar job. The People of Boston are brave and calm and oh so reasonable.

I guess, to judge, you would have to go back to a time before 24 hour media and try to figure out how this incident might have been dealt with in a time before wall-to-wall news coverage.

Coverage would have consisted of a few 'breaking news' interruptions during the soaps and three or four concise news reports at six.  Maybe a two hour special at night. People in the fray would have had to listen to their radios for other news alerts.

But we've had 24 hour news for many decades now, so we can't go back. And today, there's social media in the mix.

In Quebec in 1970 we had the October Crisis, where martial law was declared by our Prime Minister over mail-box bombings and a high-profile political kidnapping.

I was in high school and remember the military coming to my suburban house to check for well, I had no idea. 

But that's all I remember. Maybe one of my teachers complained about this dangerous political precedent.

 My mother was freaked out, that I do recall, hardly sleeping, always wanting to know the latest news. The radio wasn't enough for her.

So the 24 hour news can be 'comforting, useful and informative' on these occasions - as well as a form of desensitizing info-tainment we all can't help but watch.

 It's too bad, in the absence of genuine 'breaking news' so much air time yesterday was filled with speculation. Speculation is meaningless. Speculation can be dangerous. Speculation is best left behind the scenes to the professionals involved.

Certainly the 24 hour coverage must have comforted the citizens of Watertown and likely kept curious people indoors and safe.

Still, you could tell yesterday that the police have an ambivalent relationship with the news crews. 

Anyway, our community was mostly peaceful in 1970. 

But oddly, a boy from Northern Ireland was in a school, a refugee. I remember he was asked by the teacher to come up in front of the class and talk to us about his homeland. 1970 was the beginning of serious IRA terrorism. That's why his parents had sent him away to Canada.

I recall how this speech helped bring the boy out of his shell. He beamed at being singled out. 

 He hadn't spoken a word to any of us before that.