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Saturday morning, April 20, 2013

After spending much of the last 36 hours following the various coverages of what occurred in Boston (and West, Texas), a few observations:

I remember why I rarely turn on our TV.

There was a time when TV was the ‘go to’ medium when a national event, tragedy, news story happened. For me, that’s no longer the case. While TV can still provide some things no other medium can, it’s flaws are simply too big to ignore.

I switched between CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC (no FOX as I’m not sure it’s in my TV package). Eventually, once it was clear the TV stations no longer had ‘breaking’ events to cover, and they descended into speculation, inaccuracies, and self-promotion, I just shut it all off.

While a few of the so called ‘experts’ did have occasional important points to add, for the most part, there was simply repetition of on-the-ground reporters focused on where they were standing, moving, what they were seeing, not seeing, etc. Plus, the amount of inaccurate information on the various stations seemed to be competing for the audience’s attention. Whoever it was who said most of what you hear in the first 24 hours turns out to be wrong certainly had it right yesterday.

(On an even more personal note, I think I’ll boycott CNN until Wolf Blitzer retires or is retired, tho since I don’t watch that much TV, I doubt my boycott will have much effect.)

The Internet was better, tho not without some of the same flaws as TV.

Largely, I used my Twitter feed (I ‘follow’ 364 individuals, organizations, etc.) and through that I was led to some terrific sites and information as well as some junk. Maybe I need to cull my list, but I found there was competition there, just as on TV, by individuals/news sources trying to be first, in the know, and clever about what they were saying. So I guess it’s no surprise there were inaccuracies, speculation, and self-promotion there too.

What was best, in addition to some ‘breaking news’, was the lead to other sources of information, particularly to WBUR, some of the Boston Globe reporting, other newspaper summaries (NY Times and WSJ seemed particularly careful and accurate in what that reported), and some of the better of the TV interviews (without the endless intervening chatter). I linked into a police scanner, which at first seemed to put me ‘in the know’ until I discovered I really didn’t have sufficient context to truly understand what was important versus what was secondary.

There was also some very bad information that was passed on. See this article about Reddit, often called the ‘front page of the Internet, for an example of some of the inaccuracies that were on the Internet.

But the ability to choose quickly for myself which sites to pursue was excellent and so gave me a wide range of ‘information’ to consider and to evaluate for myself. Thus, along with the speed of the Internet, I felt better informed, tho cautious, about what was occurring.

At one point, when it seemed as if nothing ‘breaking’ was truly happening, I went to do an errand and turned on the radio in my rental car.

That was a mistake, at least when I was listening to the AM and FM channels. Mostly there were broadcasters and call in people who seemed even worse than what I had heard on TV. Things got a bit better when I retrieved my car which has Sirius radio, and I was able to spin the dial and get to stations that were more ‘professional’, tho since many of them were the same as the TV channels I complained about above, I was glad to get home and back to my ability to search through my iPad for a broad range of options.

Frequently, I found myself going to three or four newspaper sites for summaries of events that were better than the TV, radio, Internet sites, etc.

While I understand that the Boston story trumped the one from West, Texas, the almost total lack of focus on the tragedies and events there, with many more deaths and much more destruction, seemed simply wrong.

Whether that occurred because the Boston events were happening in real time, were ‘sexier’ to follow, and the outcome was not yet known, it bothered me that there was so little coverage of what had happened and was still happening in Texas.

(Asides: I was particularly struck that there wasn’t much mention of what seemed to me an important part of the Texas explosion story: the factory’s ability to operate despite violations of safety regulations. I know regulations are not liked by most businesses [I hated them too when I was running a school, and I also disliked the three year inspections and demands for corrections where we found 'wanting'].

Check out this story by the Sunlight Foundation’s Reporting Group, In the Years Before Waco Explosion, Fertilizer Trade Groups Lobbied for Lax Oversight that attempts to explains how a business that has such dangers attached was able to escape regulation for at least the last 25 years. Also, if you missed this earlier MillersTime post, A Modest Proposal, check out how the bomb experts have been denied an important ‘weapon’ in their ability to track the source of explosive devices and what could easily be done to correct it.)

(Update: 4/22: Thanx to an email from Matt R, if you want to know why there will likely be another explosion like the one at West, Texas, see Bill Minutaglio’s article, Texas on Fire Again and Again in the NYTimes several days ago.)

Finally, I’d be interested in how you experienced coverage of the events of this last week and what sources of information you found particularly useful. Use the Comment section of this blog or use my email, Samesty84@gmail.com.