Last Wednesday, I was glued to CBC radio's coverage of the Ottawa shootings while trying -- and failing -- to focus on my upcoming class. At 12:54 p.m., as a CBC reporter relayed the shocking news shots may have been fired inside the Rideau Mall -- meaning there might be "more than one shooter" -- a Facebook post popped up on my screen.
It was from Spencer Osberg, one of my graduate students. Spencer had worked as a journalist in Lebanon. He forwarded a list of cautions for following dramatic breaking news from a website called "On The Media."
No. 4 on the list: There's almost never a second shooter.
The next morning, I shadowed Twitter as police shuttered much of downtown Halifax while they searched for a man reported seen carrying a rifle.
Tweeted independent local journalist Tim Bousquet: "Remember how after Moncton shooting there were scads of false reports of shooters in Halifax? Here we go again."
A few minutes later, police arrested a man who'd left a sawed-off shotgun on a city bus. "My bad," Bousquet tweeted.
Maybe. Maybe not. It seems the man arrested and the man seen with the rifle were different.
We still -- too often -- don't know enough about everything to know anything about anything for sure.
That's the journalist's dilemma. Covering breaking news in The Age of Instant is fraught: information is fragmentary, contradictory, confusing, from multiple sources of varying reliability.
At the same time, audiences want to know what's happening now.
By most accounts, the CBC got it right. The American magazine Mother Jones described CBC television coverage as a "master class in calm, credible breaking-news reporting." That was true of radio as well. Even the ultimately false reports about shots being fired at the mall and a second shooter were carefully couched and framed.
But our next challenge will be even tougher: putting what happened in Ottawa in context. This shooter appears not to have been an ideologue-automaton but a troubled, addicted, conflicted loner who twisted religion for his own purposes. Do we really need to spend more on countering terrorism, or more on improving mental health? More on security or more on public education?
We can't give in to the everything-is-changed-forever-and-we-must-change-everything-forever hysteria. We need to remain calm and Canadian.
This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.
Photo: Tony Webster/flickr
Thank you for reading this story…
More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.
rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.
So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.
And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.