The responsibility of the media: Sorting through the Boston truths

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The chill down our collective spines late Monday afternoon and well into the evening may have dissipated somewhat from the events in Boston, but it will likely not be forgotten anytime soon.

Much like 9/11, this event will stick with us.

That uncomfortable feeling was certainly felt in the newsroom at the Petoskey News-Review shortly after 3 p.m., when executive editor Jeremy McBain put the "Breaking News" post up on www.petoskeynews.com. His most recent hire was across the room, not even out of sight while at the photocopy machine, but he wasn't going to wait for the digital editor to get around to posting the story.

That's how it went for the next 18 hours -- including about six hours of sleep -- for members of the News-Review staff, starting with an editor and reporter digging in for local ties to the Boston Marathon moments after the breaking news post appeared. Two other staff members stayed in the office deep into the evening, updating with Associated Press details every few minutes while also adding more background pictures and graphics for online and the next day's edition.

On Tuesday morning, each staff reporter and editor had the responsibility of getting the most up-to-date details of the people immediately affected -- be it runners, public safety organizations or upcoming public events with ties to our region. Our story deadlines may have been bent a little, the pages not sent to the printing staff as timely as normal (McBain called for two full pages to be added on Monday evening) but the fact is the quality showed.

It was done beautifully.

That is stated without arrogance and only an admitted pinch of pride. The reason that has to be stated -- in one opinion -- is the information shared after the events of 9/11 was incredibly scattered and sometimes wrong. Even in print and on television.

While the current PNR staff could not control what the often maligned "mainstream media" printed, broadcast or supplied, locally we wanted to keep that as responsible as possible. Essentially play "rumor control" for this wonderful area, being accountable with whatever information the staff was able to gather and share.

Clearly social media, with its explosion over the past three years, wasn't helping across the Internet. There were posts shared on my personal Facebook that covered the spectrum of pictures of a young girl supposedly hurt -- but not involved -- in the bombings to calling this another plot for Socialism and removing civil liberties by the president of the United States.

Fortunately those posts were rare against the outpouring of support and prayers of Facebook, pictures of people assisting at the scene on Twitter and -- most frequently -- a recited quote from Mister Rogers encouraging us to the see the best in people, specifically those helping in difficult circumstances.

Yet, as has so often been repeated by these lips over those past three years -- "'I heard' is not a source." In this case when the location of the attack is thousands of miles away and the local connections are limited, that is respectfully asked to be kept in mind when looking at social media.

The chill we all felt on Monday may last a bit longer. The obvious hope is that the responsible party for the Patriot's Day bombing is caught within that time frame, allowing us to heal again as a country -- depending on the reasons for this attack ... if there are any rational ones.

Until that time, there will be a lot of information -- for the lack of a better term -- shared across the growing platforms in our world. Look at it with critical eye, consider the source and hope for the best resolution.

This terrible attack should not be forgotten. Only that will allow us to learn, grow stronger, and -- most importantly -- prevent this from ever happening again.

Zac Britton is the digital editor at the Petoskey News-Review. For ideas or questions about News-Review online, social media or digital product, he can be reached at (231) 439-9398 or zbritton@petoskeynews.com.
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THE EDITORIAL BOARD


Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

Tricia Bishop, the deputy editorial page editor, was a reporter in the business and metro sections covering biotechnology, education and city and federal courts prior to joining the board.

Peter Jensen, former State House reporter and features writer, takes the lead on state government, transportation issues and the environment; he is the board's resident funny man and capital schmooze.

Glenn McNatt, who returned to editorial writing after serving as the newspaper's art critic, keeps an eye on the arts, culture, politics and the law for the editorial board.

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