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Boston shootout: Twitter Tells the Story

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by Jon Friedman
April 19, 2013 8:46 AM
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Social media did an excellent job of telling the the story surrounding the wild shooting overnight from the Boston area.

In particular, Twitter offered a riveting chronology of the unfolding saga of how law-enforcement authorities killed one of two brothers who emerged as the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday. Authorities said three people were killed and more than 100 were hurt badly.

As the wild events unfolded early on Friday morning, April 19, veteran journalist and author Seth Mnookin in particular tweeted again and again to keep online readers informed. He was not far from where the action was taking place and he turned into an instant war correspondent/police reporter. I know Mnookin from our days of competing on the media beat in New York City, and he has always impressed me as an excellent journalist and storyteller.

If you haven't already followed his tweets overnight, take some time to find them and read what he reported. Mnookin, a former writer for Newsweek and also a noted author, knowshow to tell a story expertly. The story must have a great impact on him emotionally since he hails form the Boston area but he didn't let his emotions get the better of him.

Twitter was a terrific way of staying abreast of this increasingly bizarre news story from the Boston area over the past four days because it provided relevant news reports in quick-hitting passages.

There was no extraneous information. For once Twitter's restriction of 140 characters actually came in handy because people who sent out tweets about the Boston story had to stick to the point and weren't able to stray from the news.

Twitter again proved its great value in reporting breaking news during a time of a crisis when the whole world was watching. The tweets I read were mostly crisp, directly to the point and by and large reliable. There is always a fear that an untrained journalist will succumb to an emotional outburst and publish information that is untrue, exaggerated and speculative -- as well as being filled with unreported conjecture. For these reasons, journalists often mistrust Twitter as a conduit of dependable reporting. But Twitter came through brilliantly overnight April 18-19.

By the time I woke up early on Friday morning in New York, the story had already unfolded hours before. The radio reports informed me that one of two brothers from Chechnya had been killed in a police shootout and the other one had gotten away. One or both of them had killed an MIT security employee overnight. One brother was at large in the Watertown, Mass., area, where authorities had instituted a lockdown: no mass transit, no pedestrian traffic, no movement outside of any kind. Residents were ordered to stay home with their doors locked.

Instinctively, I flipped on the television news channels to find out what had happened.  I heard differing accounts of the age of the older brother (20? 26?). Television did its usual number of speculating (unreliably) that these brothers might have international ties. What that sort of speculation accomplishes I'll never know 


CBS News did an excellent job of offering analysis. Former police chief William Bratton delivered his report as only an expert law-enforcement official could. He was succinct, unemotional and factual. Unlike the reporters in Massachusetts this week who seemed occasionally overwhelmed by the weight of the fast-moving story, Bratton kept his composure on the air and provided a service to the viewers. 

Journalism  schools should show videos of how Bratton comported himself on the air. Even though he is not a trained journalist, he showed the profession how to do the job.

So did many of the people who sent out tweets overnight. If you ever doubted Twitter's value in reporting the news, you may have to change your mind now.


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