Two days ago we witnessed another horrible mass shooting at the Navy base in Washington, D.C. Twelve people were killed by Aaron Alexis, a deranged Navy contract employee.
As in all these tragedies, the media were instantly all over the story. They scrambled to get as much information as they could, and get it first. This inevitably lead to misinformation. Initial reports were that possibly three shooters were involved. Then, maybe two. Finally it was decided that Alexis acted alone. The media scrambled to make sense of the killings. Was it terrorism? A disgruntled employee? Personal vendetta? Nobody knew for sure, but that didn’t stop the media from running reports that were nothing more than speculation.
The shootings happened early East Coast time, a little after 8 am. The event dominated the news for the first few hours of the day. By noon other news started taking its place.
Now just two days later, it seems like an event so long ago.
Today CNN’s website is all about two cars that had been in a lake for 40 years. They were lifted up and authorities believe the cars contain the bodies of six people who went missing and were never found. Fascinating story, but hardly breaking news.
To its credit the Los Angeles Times’ lead story today is about the shooting victims. We can see their pictures, read their names and learn a bit about their lives. We all know the face and name of the shooter. Shouldn’t we give equal time to the victims?
The rapid news cycle, where breaking news lasts only minutes and if it’s a really big story, a couple of hours, is a sign of the times. We want everything NOW. We want the latest smartphone NOW and we want the news NOW.
But the thrill of new technology passes quickly, and so does our interest in the news. We read a story and see the video. Then we need to be fed something new.
When someone said — so long ago — that “the only useful thing about yesterday’s newspaper is to wrap fish” — they were so right.