There are parts of the news business I haven’t given up. Flies I can’t swat away. The Associated Press is one of them. When I worked in a newsroom, updates from the AP’s wire service would pop up on my computer screen as they happened. It was instant access to the biggest stories around the world. I never knew what was going to come across the screen. In my life after news, I still find myself shooing away reflexes to “check the wire.” Nowadays, I check my phone. Because, of course, there’s an app for that.
That’s how I learned about the bombings in Boston. The AP sent a breaking news alert to my phone. Explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. What followed was a week that played out like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The images caught on camera, and sometimes on live television, were unreal. The speed of the information coming out of Boston was unprecedented. It was bonafide, unarguable, no graphics and special music required, breaking news. We needed experts to digest it appropriately and professionals to guide us through the days to come. Journalism was tested.
We pushed social media’s gas pedal to the floor and it performed. Those seeking instant news, got it. Those needing help, found it. And perhaps most impressive: the world launched a manhunt in 140 characters or less. But there were also kinks. Misinformation spread at the speed of a status update. Credibility was lost. Corrections had to be made. And some damage couldn’t be retracted, deleted or untagged.
It all ended as dramatically as it began. An American city went to war with a suspected teenage bomber hiding in a boat. TV stations went wall-to-wall. Correspondents reported while taking cover on the ground. NBC’s Kerry Sanders tried all day long not to get shot or blown up. I watched the network news on air, local Boston coverage online and read Twitter feeds from my phone. The reporter in me couldn’t resist.
And, somewhere, in the middle of it all, someone tried to poison the president through the mail and more than a dozen people died in an unrelated explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas. Five long days later it was finished. I was exhausted. And all I did was watch it. I can’t imagine how those who lived it and were affected by it felt. We all need a break. I should turn the TV off. Power down my phone. And step away from the computer. Let the swarm settle. But I don’t see myself doing that. I don’t think I’ll be ready to swat that fly anytime soon.