Courtesy of the White House
Reports that President Barack Obama was going to make a major announcement first set sail at about 9:45 p.m. Sunday and from that moment on, the media was all hands on deck.
“We have seen the media at its best and at its worst. In the immediate hours of breaking news there is nothing like television to get out a story with immediacy,” said Steve Safran, editor of Lost Remote, a website that covers social media and TV news. “Then, I was just watching ABC news (Tuesday) evening, and there is tons of crap.”
Aside from the most recent development, that Obama told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he had decided not to release photos of bin Laden’s dead body, Safran said most coverage in the days following Sunday’s announcement has been overblown.
Regarding the decision not to give media or the public photos of the body, Safran said Wednesday that he agrees with the president.
“I believe in full disclosure for journalism so that reporters can decide what to report,” Safran said. “But that wouldn’t happen in this case. No good would come of it and from what I hear they are pretty gruesome photos, the man got shot in the head.”
Safran, who is also a media consultant, said the media have perpetuated what he calls “artificial immediacy,” giving critical status to inconsequential news.
“The breaking news banner has been up there for two days,” Safran told The Lantern on Tuesday. “That’s nonsense, that’s nonsense. It was breaking for maybe an hour on Sunday night. You could get away with calling it a developing story the next day, but that’s it. This is an event that ended. Bin Laden was shot; it was reported. The end.”
Safran attributes the artificial immediacy to the nature of the 24-hour news channels. The stations are set up in a way that on the most boring day of news you have to fill 24 hours and on the busiest day of the news you only have 24 to present everything.
“It’s not like a newspaper which can expand or contract according to how much news there is. It’s not like a website where you can post or not post,” Safran said.
He was critical of a segment he saw in which reporters were analyzing a photo that the White House released of Obama with various members of the national security committee watching a live broadcast of the raid from the situation room.
Analysts said that because Obama was hunched over, he was showing that he wasn’t in a position of power and because Vice President Joe Biden was holding a Rosary, he was being too religious.
Jane Hall, an associate professor in communications at American University in Washington, D.C., disagrees.
“I don’t have a problem with ABC analyzing (the picture from the situation room) because I know as a viewer I was looking at it and wondering what he was thinking. I don’t believe in handwriting analysis, but I think there is tremendous interest in the story,” said Hall, a former weekly commentator for Fox News Watch who said she left the station because of its slanted views.
Hall, who proclaimed that she is usually very critical of the media, said the media have handled the story “seriously and responsibly.”
Bill Chuirazzi, a first-year in physics and history, said he first heard about the news from a fellow Park Hall resident before he and a group of friends took part in the Mirror Lake celebration.
“I think it’s a pretty big deal, but the media’s always going to blow things out of proportion,” Chuirazzi said.
Other students, such as Elizabeth Singeltary, a second-year in accounting, have kept up with the news via Facebook. Singeltary said the extensive media coverage is appropriate even though the way people celebrated was not.
Safran, who said he always thinks media should use social media more, said Twitter and Facebook were crucial in getting the news out.
“A lot of the information came out via Twitter and I think that is terrific. I think the most useful part in social media was in spreading the word,” Safran said. “Because, you know, not everybody is watching TV, but a lot of people are on computers and a lot of people were sharing their thoughts, reminiscences, thoughts and whatnot. I think it was an important component to the story.”
However, he said he hoped media outlets would have used social media more in garnering the reactions of people to the event.
“You know it’s one thing on TV when the reporters say ‘What are people thinking?’ and they do three (man-on-the-street interviews) and that’s it,” Safran said. “(ABC) went down to Ground Zero and found three people to say ‘USA! It’s fantastic. It’s great to be patriotic again.’ That’s bulls—, that’s not reporting. From social media, you get a much better sense of how people feel about a major event.”
ABC did not immediately respond to an inquiry for comment Wednesday evening.
Hall agreed social media was a factor in the dispersion of news and the coming together of people across the nation but makes a distinction between social media acting as a reactionary tool and social media acting as a prompting tool.
“I would separate this from a huge story such as Egypt or Iran where it was used as an organizing tool,” Hall said, referring to how Twitter and Facebook were used in the democratic uprisings in several Middle Eastern countries recently. “I think it is a factor but I would imagine that the ratings for all news broadcasts are up. I don’t see this as being particularly driven by social media.”
According to Business Insider, “coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden (from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.) delivered 4.142 million total viewers” which was more than a 900 percent increase from the previous Sunday. Twitter reported 5,106 tweets per second in the height of the news on Sunday evening.
Another positive Safran finds with social media is the immediacy in correcting misinformation.
“There was that story going around about something that Martin Luther King has said about celebrating the death of an enemy. It turned out to be incorrect and online corrected it just as fast as they had reported it,” Safran said. “But a newspaper might have run a tiny correction inside on page 32, whereas the web is more socially honest about something like that. I find all of that very encouraging.”
So where will the media take the story next?
Hall hopes that instead of continuing to work a human interest angle discussing bin Laden’s wives or daily life, the media turns the attention toward the impact this event has on international relations and the war in Afghanistan.
“This thing was a top-secret operation,” Hall said. “I think most people would agree that it probably had to be, so now the story for the media should be ‘what’s the impact?'”
Lia Armstrong contributed to this story.