Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death was reported so nearly instantaneously it boggles my mind. It shouldn’t. In this day and age, someone with a smartphone can take a picture and send a tweet and take over a news cycle.
Hoffman’s death is Exhibit A. And I offer the Farrow-Allen saga as Exhibit B.
An event months in the making, pro football’s Super Bowl dominated our media culture one cold February Sunday until these stories broke. And how. Both the Hoffman story and the Farrow-Allen story came from different places: Hoffman’s untimely death was news. The Farrow-Allen story has been around for 20 years. Each commanded attention, and in a way print or broadcast journalism cannot compete. Because it’s not ‘right here, right now.’
The tragedies in Newtown and Boston gave the world examples of up-to-the-minute reporting for all its good and its faults. What’s different about the Hoffman story is how it evolved, from a tweet to a story on the web to as-it-happens details from police and other officials, all of which painted a bleak picture of Mr. Hoffman’s recent past and last hours.
The Farrow-Allen story is the type of story that simmers, then boils over when something new occurs. I don’t know that the new in this case is news, and I don’t think the rehash of sordid details does anything except reopen wounds and creates a climate where public figures must endure the harsh criticisms of strangers.
Most evenings I’m at my day job – a newspaper. Anachronistic, you might say. In this day and age, it seems so. So many people now are tuned into social media that one person saying one thing at one moment can take over the mediasphere.
Has technology changed the way we get and use information? Yes. Has it changed the news business? Definitely. It’s arguable that no other industry has been as affected by this type of change. What has changed in my business since the late 1990s is the volume and variety of information available to readers and the speed in which they receive it.
I use the examples of Hoffman and Farrow and Allen and Newtown and Boston because I don’t believe people get the whole picture of a situation or event when they receive it in bits and pieces. People who are familiar with Hoffman’s or Farrow’s or Allen’s troubles may be able to piece together what they hear with with what they know and believe and make a conclusion, but is this really what the story is about?
People believe what they want to believe. But I don’t think the public is served by someone tweeting something and as a result, the media herd mentality taking over. I believe that taking a step back and allowing a story to percolate, take off, settle or disappear is a good thing. News doesn’t go stale as quickly as you might think.