The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sandy Hook

December 19, 2012

In Newtown, fiction about shooter's mother made sense

(Continued)

Campbell documented a similar phenomenon of "narrative fulfillment" in news coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Many accounts described rampant acts of violence and mayhem in New Orleans that turned out to be mostly false. Such stories, he said, were fed by the media's assumption that New Orleans was populated by a lawless underclass given to such behavior. Foreign press outlets, he said, were quick to add a layer of anti-Americanism, suggesting that the alleged chaos reflected the decline of American power.

While the media have made errors in many other breaking-news situations, the number of errors that grew out of the events in Newtown suggests "we're dealing with a new normal in terms of what happens in major events," said Craig Silverman, who writes Regret the Error, a blog about reporting mistakes.

Constant deadlines, intense competition, reduced news staffs and instantaneous transmission via social networks, Silverman says, make it likely that it will happen again. "People have to realize that this is going to happen a lot," he said.

Given that it's unlikely that competition for news will somehow slow down, he advises the media to find "constructive ways" to be as transparent as possible with readers and viewers. "We are our own worst enemies," he said. "We should tell people what we're not ready to report and why. Not everything is rock solid. We should tell them how solid what we know is."

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