With the nation’s attention transfixed on the Boston Marathon bombing Monday, things like device specs and press releases suddenly seemed insignificant. More than a hundred people were injured in the blast, three were killed, and panic spread all over the country, as folks either worried about loved ones in the area or the state of the country’s security in general.
But as the shocking photos, videos and Vines spread out across the Internet and television, something else surprising happened. A few of the leading tech sites also stepped in to carry the news. The public reaction to that has been extremely mixed. In the comments section of The Verge, some hailed the coverage as a great service, especially since CNN, NBCNews and other outlets were swamped by the traffic-clogging masses. But others were confused, even irate. They asked, why is the technology site reporting on something that had nothing to do with tech?
Interesting point — especially since, elsewhere, I was asking for permission at TechnoBuffalo to run the article “How to Check Up On a Loved One in Boston After the Bombing.” Now, that’s not typical protocol around these parts, but in cases like this, we tread carefully. Our site feels very strongly about not doing…well, exactly what this guy is railing about.
It was a tough call, but we made it — we wanted to get information out there that could help ease concerns and connect people with family members using their mobile devices or computers. But we also made the conscious decision not to go into the blow-by-blow details. We were keenly aware that this incident was firmly outside our wheelhouse.
That’s not to say we judge the colleagues who did run with the story. But we are as confused as everyone else. Sites like TechCrunch and The Verge not only picked it up, but they posted updates as details emerged — almost like they were live-blogging the event.
For me in particular, it hits home because I often write about lifestyle for a technology site, so relating to things in the larger world is sort of what I do. But even for me, those editorial decisions were baffling. Even a subtle technology angle was hard to pinpoint in those posts, and that certainly makes it seem like they were exploiting the tragedy just for pageviews.
Apparently, several others picked up on that notion as well.https://twitter.com/ted_hardy/status/323882014333874178
Interestingly, Wired Magazine wasn’t demonized for its Boston Marathon coverage. Maybe that’s because the editors there actually focused on the technological side of the incident. As we mentioned in our previous post, the authorities are explicitly appealing to the public for any imagery taken at the event. That means the police is actively crowd-sourcing the data that will fuel its investigation, which is precisely what Wired reported. Had the other tech sites taken a similar tack, perhaps onlookers would’ve been more forgiving. in fact, known tech personalities like Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley and Fuse.tv exec and SocialVibe.com founder Joe Marchese were running the marathon that day. If they’d simply mentioned that, it could have elevated the scenario somewhat. Covering an event because you’re concerned about your tech brethren is certainly preferable to coming off like you’re taking advantage of human suffering.
On the other hand, one might wonder if the critics are being fair here. After all, plenty of niche publications and websites stretch over into other areas.
After a major terrorist attack hit us on our turf on September 11, 2001, an incredible load of publications covered it — including, of all places, Sports Illustrated. We live in a world in which business magazines like Forbes or Fortune regularly run articles about vacations and cars. Foodies worship that arbiter of culinary excellence, the Michelin Guides, yet many people don’t realize they come from the tire company. (That’s right, Gordon Ramsay and other fancy pants Michelin-starred chefs get those distinctions from same place your Grandpa buys his “all-seasons.”) And yet, somehow, these examples are apparently more reasonable than a tech site posting tweets and social media surrounding an important national news event.
As our technologies advance, they increasingly touch every aspect of our lives — which means it will get harder and harder to distinguish “tech stories” from other types of stories. That may not explain why or how TechCrunch and The Verge jumped on the Boston Marathon bombing, but it could mean that, going forward, tech fans will have to brace themselves for even more cross-over coverage. As for whether that’s good or bad, it’s literally up to you to decide. Because ultimately, the reporting is supposed to serve the readers.
So with that in mind, let us know what you think. Are you in favor of technology sites delving into mainstream topics and major news, or should they should stick to overtly tech-connected stories, specs and reviews only? Weigh in below at the comments.