Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Terrorism Edition

Source: On the Media, NPR

1. Remember, in the immediate aftermath almost everyone will get it wrong. Terrorist attacks are designed to sow mayhem and confusion. Even using best practices, news outlets, witnesses, and governments need time to get the facts straight.

2. As always, local, non-anonymous, and verified sources offer better info. Most news sources will be operating off of second- and third-hand information. Wait for trustworthy, verified reports from those who actually know.

3. Amid all the contradictory statements, focus on consistent reports.

4. The more emotional the commentary, the less reliable the information. Rational thinking is essential in these moments, as well as remembering the lessons of history.

5. Really don’t pay attention to politicians. Incidents like these are uniquely suited to political manipulation, especially in a campaign year, and politicians of all stripes will be tempted to push their favorite agenda.

6. In fact, examine the credentials of all putative “experts.” Just because someone worked in government doesn’t make them a terrorism expert. Even a CIA background is no guarantee of expertise.

7. Pay attention to the language the media uses:

“Mastermind” … endows terrorists with more power than they have.
“Sophisticated” … overestimates crudely planned mayhem.
“Unprecedented” … there is little “new” in terrorist methods.

8. Inevitably, whole populations and religions are scapegoated. Ignore this.

9. Resist reflexive retweeting. Number of shares belies accuracy. Even well-intentioned social media users will get things wrong. Better to wait than to share an inaccurate meme that could have negative consequences. In fact, generally…

10. Be patient. No matter what, the unfolding of the story will take time and mistakes will be made. Allow the coverage to develop and let those who were affected recover and respond in their own way, on their own time.


3 responses to “Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Terrorism Edition

  1. mike holliday

    Please send a copy of this to every news media boss. In Australia the mainstream (read Rupert Murdoch) media outlets reported categorically that there were at least four shooters who had ambushed the police. Wrong. Turns out there was one sniper.
    That one shooter was then described as `hating whites.’ Wrong. He was a black man who’d had enough of unchecked police power.
    He was terribly wrong, but when you live in a society which reveres the gun; where the `wild west ethos’ holds such power and where police routinely use black men as target practice, it should not surprise when someone tries to square the ledger.
    If right-thinking, ethical police in America want to know why they should be the targets of such hatred they should first look at the actions of some of their colleagues and at the actions of the authorities, which for the most part do nothing more than mouth platitudes when a black man or woman is killed.

  2. It strikes me that most of these ten suggestions–#5 in particular–are good advice at any time, not just in the aftermath of a “terrorist” incident.