Newtown victim’s sister: Anguished photo of her ‘kills’

New York Daily News | NowThis News | The Washington Post | GigaOM

This photo of Carlee Soto was taken Friday, Dec. 14 by AP photojournalist Jessica Hill.

Carlee Soto told CBS the now-iconic photo of her waiting for news about her sister Victoria outside Sandy Hook Elementary School “kills.” The Daily News’ Christine Roberts stitches together some more of the Soto family’s awful week: Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy delivered the news that Victoria was dead; she’s scheduled to be buried Wednesday.

But let’s talk about the media’s pain. NowThis News has put together a montage of the many incorrect facts reported in the first few hours after the shooting Friday.

American University professor W. Joseph Campbell tells The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi the incorrect facts were “narrative fulfillment” — they fit the story that people wanted to tell. “It’s hard for us to accept the idea that something so horrible was completely random,” Campbell says. Knowing shooter Adam Lanza’s mother “had little or no connection to the school makes it harder to wrap your mind around such a horrific and senseless act.”

Guardian columnist Michael Wolff tried to wrap his mind around NPR Twitter guru Andy Carvin’s reporting on Friday and found it wanting: Carvin “tweeted a rather broad range of bollocks,” Wolff, an American, writes. Carvin responded at length, as did Mathew Ingram, identified by Wolff as Carvin’s “personal publicist.” (Ingram’s clearly not doing that great a job in that role: Wolff spells Ingram’s first name wrong and botches Carvin’s title, both of which seem like awfully low-hanging fruit in a column taking someone else to task for inadequate fact-checking.) Carvin was often amplifying mistakes made by reporters from mainstream organizations, Ingram notes.

I’m not suggesting that we just ignore mistakes, or shrug our shoulders when errors are repeated on Twitter or anywhere else. At least Carvin is trying to fact-check in real-time on the same platform that is distributing many of the mistakes, which is more than many traditional outlets do, and we can all see it happening and — even participate.

There are plenty of lessons in Newtown: “Restraint is a value that’s rarely celebrated, rarely highlighted,” my coworker Craig Silverman wrote earlier this week. But just like the perennial idea of not naming perpetrators of such crimes (which, does anyone honestly think that’s ever going to happen: What’s the cutoff point after which we don’t name a murderer? One victim? Three? Twenty?) the chaotic first few hours of Newtown coverage are something news consumers are going to have to live with.

Silverman also calls on journalists practicing crowdsourced, real-time journalism to let people know what they’re doing. The voices on the video montage above convey incorrect facts with studied authority. Maybe there’s a way to give that up in exchange for letting news consumers in on the process.

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  • Robert Knilands

    If these media members don’t improve, then they might lose their certification. Oh, wait — I am thinking of every other professional industry. Journalism and the media don’t require certification. My bad.

  • Michael Cromer

    In the rush to be first and to fill dead air, I’m sure the broadcast journalists violated journalism’s rulebook in countless ways. The main thing: None of those early facts was double-sourced.

  • Mitch Owens

    Please stop using the word “iconic.” It’s overuse cheapens its definition. The photograph posted is striking, memorable, wrenching, even symbolic. But it is not iconic.

  • canardnoir

    Everybody in the business wants to be the first with the “Breaking News!”

    Some reporters apparently sought to immediately rely on hearsay rather than creditable sources.

    The TV images indicated that this was not a case of mere collateral damage from a typical shooting, and it takes hours to accurately report those facts.

    At least some news outlets did admit their reporting was not accurate, but I only recall one that actually appoligised for their unintended mistakes.