By Parmita Protik Das, CNN
Guda Raad, Blog Post
The decision that faced the staff at NNN ahead of the 6 o’clock news:
There has been an explosion in Downtown Boston and the police suspect nefarious motives rather than a simple technical glitch because there was a suspicious suspect at the location. How should NNN go about reporting the incident?
As the President of International, my responsibilities were not just to the NN Nightly at 6 o’clock but also to NNN International, so I had the duty to divide the time slot for the coverage in both platforms.
I believe that field reporters at the scene of the bombing could help gather information and I dispatched journalists to retrieve security footage from the scene. Some reporters were instructed to go interview several key witnesses, first responders, police officers, medics and emergency personnel disposed to the site. To reassure the American people, we would need to inform them of the steps being done to keep them safe as such incidents have the tendency to cause mass hysteria and panic. I knew that reinstating their trust in law enforcement was key and I knew that NNN could not air speculation because it goes against our duty as gatekeepers of the 4th Estate to mislead the public with unconfirmed information.
As President of International, I knew from my experience covering such events that take place around the world that graphic images would add to the air of uncertainty and should be avoided as much as possible to keep our ratings high. To be competitive, we needed to be the first to get hold of any new information so the strategic dispatch of our reporters would be necessary.
I was taken aback when I heard the update that Reddit users were pointing fingers at minorities and putting targets on the backs of two men, who may be completely innocent, without due process. I knew that this would lead to Islamophobia as people tie it back to the stereotype they have of Muslims. I felt a particular need to emotionally appeal to the masses and urge them not to fall for the demagoguery as such speculation has widespread and lasting impacts on the Muslim population around the world. I would hate for my young nephews to grow up in a world even more divided by fear, where they are constantly ostracized.
To reinforce the trust the people were losing in traditional media I felt it was necessary to inform the public of the measures we were taking to obtain accurate news and urge them, through our anchor, Dulce Doolittle, to not give into fear because that would be exactly what any nefarious individual would want. I believed it was imperative to remind them that terrorism exists in all forms and the culprits behind such acts do not fall into any particular religious or racial category. I wanted to humanize the people who would be impacted by baseless speculation, I felt personally responsible for that. My colleagues differed in their perspective and did not see the urgency I felt the matter deserved; in fact I struggled getting them to hear me or see my point of view. I could not communicate with them about the times I felt stared down as I made my way across the John F. Kennedy International Airport on my way to Qatar after 9/11.
As other news flowed into the boardroom, I quickly began drafting the schedule for NNN International, NNN 6’ o clock and highlighting the topics we needed to cover in our 24-hour channel. I felt that, since the world would be losing faith in humanity just a little bit more in light of this incident, the clinical trial for HIV which showed promising results would need to be banked on heavily in the news cycle and advertising. The Women’s March would also need to be capitalized due to its relatability and the personal stakes that half our viewership has in the event. The fact that Nigeria would be hosting the 2020 Olympics would become a matter of discussion in a few days after the dust settles, so it needed to be aired semi-prominently. I sighed internally because I knew we would need to be airing Donald Trump falling out of his plane (what a comical character that man has become). The stocks would also be of interest to our viewership, those of who have investments in the stock exchange. I quickly jotted those notes down and passed them across the table. (Approved, excellent)
Further updates came pouring in. The explosion had two confirmed casualties and 5 injuries. We would have to offer our sincere condolences to the families of the victims.
It was relayed to us that the Boston mayor would make a few announcements and that the Police Chief would be speaking to the press. I quickly got our journalists on the phone, securing prime locations in the pressroom for the announcements and asking for one-on-one interviews with both these prominent personalities. As celebrities’ tweets poured in, I decided that it would be best to run them under the Breaking News banner for the 24 hour cycle. To stop the people from sending in unsubstantiated tips to the police hotlines on the basis of the Reddit posts, it was imperative that we ask them in our 24 hour news channel not to disrupt the investigation thereby.
On hearing the attacks on traditional media by User124 from Reddit, claiming that Reddit users would be personally staking out the alleged suspects that Reddit identified and had run down their home addresses and other such information, I was immediately angered. As if to lift me out of my internal tirade, came the news of the actual suspect who had been identified by the police. The suspect was affiliated with Brothers of Liberty, a white supremacist group. Now the debate on the floor was whether or not to air the video and photographic evidence on air. Acknowledging the need the victims’ families had for closure, I felt it best not to air the graphic scenes but to snip the video to only that part which showed the suspect’s guilt. It seemed in the flurry of the moment, the rest of my colleagues had forgotten about this technology. I also deemed it best that we should air the picture of the suspect so that the people could take measures for their safety and also help the police in apprehending the criminal.
However, our actions may have contributed to a copycat bomber in Chicago who wanted the fame that the Boston suspect was receiving and had posted his intentions on Tumblr prior to his activities. Unwavering from my belief that people had the right to know of the suspect to take precautions for their security, I felt the best course of action would be to warn people to call in any suspicious online activity to the police if they indicate such intentions. I also adjusted our schedule to reflect the new development believing it prompt to dismiss coverage of Donald Trump falling down the stairs and subsequently air the Boston and Chicago bombings on the basis of evidence available to inform the public of, believing that geography is not a factor to decide coverage on.