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Breaking News is broken (slate.com)
210 points by marban on Apr 20, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 109 comments

The product that you appear to be buying is instantaneous transmission of the news, perhaps as much as a minute or two ahead of others.

The product you are actually buying is non-existent. You are the product. People pay good money in order to manipulate your social drive to keep you as viewers.

I said this to some friends on FB yesterday, but it bears repeating. Of all the players in this terrible tragedy, the terrorists, the police, the news media, the administration, the politicians, the security-industrial complex and so forth -- it's in everybody's interest to create and sustain some huge public spectacle. That's not a good thing for a democracy or the continuation of a free society. </rant>

I realized late last week that I wasn't following this story as a news story anymore. I literally felt like I was watching 24, with cliff-hangers and all. It had stopped being something I followed to remain a well-informed person and just devolved into popcorn-munching entertainment.

It's a clear reminder that limiting news consumption is healthy.

Indeed. I can only advise you to read "The Information Diet" if you haven't yet. The state of the media influences a lot the state of politics as well - and not only that, our whole culture. 24/24 news watching is more than popcorn, rather like only eating bacon burgers.

That's curious, my need for instantaneous news has been waning. This past few weeks events (local and international) have really been the proverbial straw.

I now wait. For news, I want truth not action.

By far THE WORST instance of ratings pandering by the "news" media were instances of breathless replaying of the dramatic footage of the "suspect" being taken into custody at gunpoint and forced to strip naked before the police would approach (due to the risk of carrying a bomb wired to a deadman's switch). Some networks reran that footage hours after it had become well-known everywhere that the person was not one of the bombing suspects and was just a bystander who was quickly released. Rerunning this footage certainly added to the drama factor but from a news perspective it actually had negative value since it led people into possibly thinking the second suspect had been apprehended and it also led people to believe that man was in some ways connected to the bombings though he was not. It was just shameful.

> it's in everybody's interest to create and sustain some huge public spectacle.

What a ridiculous and insensitive assertion. These types of arguments only serve to distract from having honest debates about political subjects.

Even if that's not true, the coverage on the events was intense.

> The product you are actually buying is non-existent. You are the product. People pay good money in order to manipulate your social drive to keep you as viewers.

It ought to be much harder to manipulate people this way. I think a major missing part of general education is decision theory: how do people make bad decisions? Rephrased, how do I make bad decisions every day, and how can I avoid them?

News consumption is just one example from a huge class of transactions that are suspect because of manipulation. Our entire economic model is premised on the idea that parties to transactions are rational and self-interested. If there are ways in which people are irrational and manipulable, then 'voluntary' transactions are a fiction (which is clearly the case).

Why do the police--the people getting shot at, want a spectacle?

They get more funding in the end, because somehow people see them as the good guys again.


This is exactly the same conclusion I came to at the end of the day yesterday.

I realized I probably "wasted" three hours following the story. Because at the end of the day, I gained nothing I couldn't have gotten in reading an article at 11pm for five minutes.

I swear, it's like a drug. It's exciting at the time, but afterwards you think, well, that was a stupid waste of my time.

It's the same phenomenon that gets people to think that working long hours, or working in "open plan" offices for that matter, is super productive.

You watch TV for a bunch of hours and there's a constant hum of energy which is mostly just regurgitating the same information over and over again in different ways but there is a little kernel of new information coming out in dribs and drabs. And at the end of X hours it feels like those hours were spent productively because you have been exposed to new information along the way. Typically though you'd be better off just reading a summary later.

In an office environment when you work, say, 12 hours a day you'll find that you do productive work all throughout that period, even in the parts after "normal" hours. And that suckers you into thinking that the whole stretch was valuable, even though typically there are lots of periods of downtime and reduced productivity in those 12 hours and usually you'd be better off just working 8 hours or less and having better time management. Similarly, when you happen to overhear co-workers talking about something important and you go join the discussion and it turns out to be very fruitful you have that same post hoc rationalization that how things happened is the best and/or only possible way for productive work to happen.

I've been against open plan office environments since long before it became cool. There are some things that I just don't need to see and hear. It could be anything from a coworker blowing their nose, a conversation, or body language. It's distracting. If a company won't give a programmer a proper office with a door, it tells you a lot about the company, and what it tells me isn't good for productivity.

Hmm I work in an open plan office - What if the reason we're doing so is because rent is expensive and we're a startup?

In that case it would appear to be unavoidable. However, when comparing the costs between offices I think it is important to take lost productivity in to account.

When looking at $cost_of_office_with_private_space versus $cost_of_open_plan_office it might make sense to go for the open plan office.

But $cost_of_office_with_private_space versus ($cost_of_open_plan_office + $productivity_cost) might lead to a different conclusion.

So how do you measure $productivity_cost accurately? Do you account for cases like where employee A, B and C come in the shared office with a new kind of idea going to rocket your business revenues to sky level?

> So how do you measure $productivity_cost accurately?

With great difficulty :)

You're right, and I think your question helps strengthen my point - the cost of office space is just one factor.

Indeed - definitely agree on this!

I've got no problem with "ramen profitable" startups doing it out of necessity— after all, there's a lot of non-optimal things new companies do. What I object to are companies that are flush with cash, profitable— maybe they've even IPO'd— and can afford to foster a productive work environment, but believe open floor plans are the way to go because Facebook does it.

> Because at the end of the day, I gained nothing I couldn't have gotten in reading an article at 11pm for five minutes.

That's not strictly true. If all you do is watch "real news" on TV all day, perhaps, because they just regurgitate the same information over and over.

I was able to feel more involved with what was actually happening. To feel more connected with people who were affected by the bombings. To see what went on, and to empathize with people. Rather than consume the same 5 pictures shown on the news over and over, there were hundreds, thousands of pictures to look at, lots of people telling their stories, people posting pictures from their days that let me be immersed in their experiences, etc. I also got to witness the heroic acts of everyone in the vicinity, those injured themselves, who overcame their instinct to run and saved lives. The death toll would've easily climbed to 10 if these people hadn't immediately acted selflessly -- stories not widely talked about in the news. I'm astonished at how incredible some of these people are.

The end result is that I feel connected to my Boston brethren, and feel deeply empathetic with those who have a loss, and want to help.

You don't get that sense of community out of a 5 minute story after everything is said and done. So my time doesn't feel wasted at all. I'm a human, not an information processing robot.

You're right and Slate is right as well.

However, yesterday a couple million people really needed to know what was going on immediately. For those of us who live in and around Boston, it's a really small town (that punches wayyy above its weight). It seems like everybody I know in Boston was nearby to some part of the craziness. Those who weren't had a loved one nearby.

Everyone in Boston can say something like, "my friend crossed the finish line a half hour before the blasts," "my girlfriend worked right by the finish line," "I walked through Kendall a half hour before the MIT cop was shot," "my neighbor went to the hospital with a somewhat serious wound."

Given the proximately, we simply needed to know where stuff was happening immediately. People will point to the journalistic errors and say we were dangerously misled at times. But that is the risk of all information that pops up on the internet. Everyone living in the internet age has learned to attach probabilities to everthing we read. I give CNN breaking news 60% probability of getting it right. I give @YourAnonNews 30% probability of getting it right. Although Twitter reports are often wrong, the right story is usually in there, and thoughtful people are always questioning the right facts.

I just want to come back to where I started. You're right that breaking news is broken. But yesterday, the chatter on Twitter alerted us of risks hours ahead of sound/verifiable reporting. Although many of those reports were quickly rescinded, I believe many Bostonians made prudent, timely choices as a result.

I guess my point is that news has different purposes for different audiences. For at least one audence yesterday, I thought the information coming over good accounts on Twitter was a blessing.

> However, yesterday a couple million people really needed to know what was going on immediately.

Reminds me of energy drinks.

Energy drinks make sense for some athletes, in some situations. But mostly, they're purchased by people who have been conditioned, in some way and to some extent or another, to think they need an energy drink.

A perfect analogy.

> Everyone living in the internet age has learned to attach probabilities to everthing we read.

"Everyone" is a red flag that this sentence is an example of what it refers to.

Of course. ... but I hope my point wasn't lost.

142 characters is not journalism and never can be. 142 characters is gossip--some truth mixed with lots of speculation and spin.

Hmm... perhaps that's a productive definition of "journalism." ... But I guess I don't understand your point.

If you're saying that meaningful information can't be conveyed in 142 characters then I think you'd be dismissing the majority of spoken conversations, chat, sms, etc. A good example to the contrary: https://twitter.com/Boston_Police

But I think I've missed your point...

If diluted quality and deluge quantity--firehouse, ahem--is what this thread is about, those are the points I speak to.

Trivial information can be shared in 142 characters. Sure, T is used by some as an aggregator/reader/chat tool, but then what are we doing talking tech here at HN instead of on T? The format and structure just isn't optimal for these functions. It's breadth and no depth with that format and structure.

I never said gossip is of zero value, but I did say 142 characters will never be journalism. The legacy media structure is precisely why the world is in such a bad spot today. That you jest about journalism is just an example of the systemic problem in society writ large. What you should be complaining about is quality, not the function itself.

"Information is the currency of democracy." -JT

> That you jest about journalism is just an example of the systemic problem in society writ large...

The last thing I wanted was to jest about journalism. I'm an avid reader of long accounts of events. My point in putting "journalism" in quotes was that you seemed to be offering a definition to a specific term as opposed to discussing the capacity to convey information through various media.

I didn't want to argue semantics -- I wanted to discuss the capacity of Twitter to convey information quickly.

> What you should be complaining about is quality, not the function itself.

Sorry, I don't follow.

142 characters is a headline. Often it includes a link to a supporting article and discussion. Sometimes your non-journalism is arranged on a page in a list. Sometimes with sorted and scored with points assigned by the site's users, sometimes not.

This is a bizarre comment to read on a news aggregation and discussion site.

PS Sometimes I wish there were a news service that would identify news headlines by their degree of importance.

Rank 1 headlines would be SMS-ed to me immediately. Rank 2 would be e-mailed immediately. Rank 3 would be collated by e-mail daily. I could choose specific categories of interest (technology, US politics) to add to the daily e-mail of lower ranks (4, 5, etc.)

That way, I'd always know I wasn't missing anything important, but not wasting my time either. Happily, there would be whole days where nothing of importance happened, and I'd have nothing to read!

When your job is to get people to pay attention to you, why would categorize anything as less than the most important? Crowd-sourcing the importance might be better, but that brings us right back to a HN/reddit solution.

You could make the bet that credibility today is worth increased attention tomorrow. I guess lots of people might not think that is a good bet.

In practice, attention is credibility. You can look at this as a cultural problem[1], a psychological finding[2], a propaganda tool[3], a business model[4], etc.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Postman [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Availability_heuristic [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Opinion_(book) [4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonah_Peretti

I guess credibility is a poor word choice. I meant something more like trustworthiness (which might tend to build credibility with a certain demographic...).

Nice idea. I am sure there are startups doing that already, but don't know one offhand. TV news is a waste of time. It is addictive though.

As the other guy mentioned, devolving into 4chan, tumblr and reddit are what happens when there is no individual cost--disincentive, not necessarily financial--to polluting the public information pool. The first layer of defense is a scarce publishing profile, the second is scarce publishing frequency and third is individual accountability.

There are very few scenarios where a person can be physically threatened by the nature of their information. In those rare situations, anonymity doesn't protect the individual because the information is likely only privilege to a small group.

To identify content of public importance, you would need to identify which people the information is important to geographically and then determine the demand via market forces and then determine the trustworthiness of the content by evaluating the individual sharing the information.

You end up with a trust structure tied to publishing capability on a geospatial information system.

Already building it!

I saw a suggestion on Reddit where with each million users, the headlines get even more distorted, that there be a karma penalty for distorting the headline. I think that could work if it was on a per subreddit basis.

Reddit can manage the volume if they get rid of the legacy media content. I don't see that happening with Conde Nast running the show though. Subreddits aren't as diluted by corporate content as /politics or /worldnews are, but reddit is kinda like the yahoo of news: lots of categories and that doesn't scale so well as we all know now.

Between corporate content, categories and so many human moderators it is going to be a battle as a viable business. My ad testing also showed a non-trivial percentage of their audience and traffic is <14 y/o.

Conde Nast no longer owns reddit

It absolutely is a drug. There has to be some study showing what chemicals are released in our brain when we see little tidbits of new information flowing. Look at the biggest new websites - facebook, twitter, reddit - they're all the same thing. Tiny interesting tidbits constantly streaming. There's something addicting about it.

It's perfectly well described through behaviorism. It's called variable schedule of reward, and we've known it's addictive for over half a century.

You could say the same thing about watching sports. Why watch the game when you can't change the outcome, the highlights are on repeat on ESPN, and the final score is the only thing that really matters?

This article kind of misses the point in a few ways

1. During important events, a lot of us want to be/feel connected to what's going on. Watching on TV does that and following reddit/twitter/web does that too, but picking up the paper hours later doesn't. You could make the same argument as the article about the super bowl: if you want to know what happened, don't use twitter or watch the game on TV (remember when everyone thought the 49ers were going to score on that last drive to win the game? LOL FAIL!) just wait until a few hours after it's over and read about it on your favorite website! I mean, that's all true, but it misses the point. For a lot of events, for better or worse, we want to know what's happening as it happens.

2. I use twitter to follow breaking news and news related to my profession (I'm an economist), so I choose who to follow based on that and know which people are reliable and unreliable; @AntDeRosa (among others) is awesome and responsible; I stopped following some other people for irresponsibility during hurricane sandy, etc. So there's no universal "twitter." I get a lot of valuable "breaking news" out of twitter and reddit, but depending on how other people use it, they may not. I really doubt that the Manjoo really believed that all of the rumors he read online were true.

3. Pretty much all of the relevant breaking news on, say, cyprus was coming from twitter. There are many other examples. For breaking non-mainstream news, there is no alternative to twitter etc. For this event, some of the threads on r/news were amazingly informative.

4. From what I've read, a lot of the misinformation problems were caused by journalists either on TV or online. Point fingers at them.

edit: and by "them" I mean those particular people, not "journalists" as a group.

Pretty much this. I was following the BostonPoliceScanner tag or whatever it was and that information was coming straight from the police scanners. I could usually tell that some of the people misinterpreted what they were hearing and tweeted misinformation but you could easily filter that out by looking at the tweets as a whole, rather than coming just from one source. Any ONE source, I don't care who it is, is going to make errors eventually. The more sources you have, the better.

But I was able to listen in on the major events as they happened and that's what I wanted. I got to hear on the scanner when the first suspect was confirmed deceased and I was listening in as the police were chasing after the second suspect. I heard "shots fired" when they found the second suspect inside the boat, and "suspect in custody! suspect confirmed in custody!" when he was finally caught. Then I listened in to the police officers congratulating each other and feeling proud that their hard work and planning had paid off.

That's what I wanted to get out of that and that's not something you get from reading a newspaper a few hours later. You might get a nice narrative out of it, and some journalist might add some fancy and colorful language to the article, but that doesn't capture the FEELING of being part of it or the kind of suspense you get from listening to the entire thing. Nor do you get to appreciate how much work went into catching this guy. The articles afterwards read like this: "Suspect 1 dead! Suspect 2 was captured! One officer died, another officer critically injured! Here's a picture of a bunch of cops standing around!" But listening in, you get to hear how calm the officers are as they radio in to report some seriously intense stuff. You get to hear their professionalism and how much organization goes into everything. You get to understand fully what it is that they're doing out there. You get a far more human perspective from the incident. That's what I appreciate more than anything.

All true, and you said what I came here to say. Another point: breaking "news" is helpful for those who are affected by the situation at hand. What I think the author of the article fails to mention is that people are following the news because they are either involved, want to be connected (like you said), or know someone who is involved. I have several friends in Boston and I was following the news up to the second because I wanted to see what was happening. I took what I heard with a grain of salt, but I was better informed and more aware of their situation.

The sports game analogy is spot on. We don't watch breaking news to learn the facts, we watch it to observe the drama.

It's broken except for everyone who had to find out they were in lock down and not to go out as a result.

It's broken except for the people who saw the suspect in the boat - who knew from breaking news that he was being chased.

It's broken except for the people who wanted celebrate on the streets when the suspect was caught.

In the UK at least, the newspapers are often wrong in all the same ways suggested in the article, so that luxury of only publishing once a day doesn't seem to help that much.

You're doing it wrong.

Most breaking news isn't meant to be watched continuously. Most news is designed for people who are busy doing other things and checking in once in a while. Breaking means it's so new they haven't had time to summarize & package it for you, so it'll be rough and weird.

That's it. The reason it's repetitive is to sound fresh for the next guy who checks in.

If you're spending time watching it repeat, expecting something new to happen as you're watching, you're frankly doing it wrong.

> You're doing it wrong.

Perhaps, but he's doing it as intended, and that's part of the problem.

News outlets aren't incentivized to let their customers be on their merry way after 5 minutes. They're in the business of getting eyeballs on screens for the maximum duration possible.

You are just wrong.

Compare Headline News -- a constant loopy stream of Headlines to CNN. Don't blame CNN because you are bored so they tell you more stuff. Don't blame HN do being repetitive. Change the channel if you don't need the infom

>> You are just wrong....Don't blame CNN because you are bored...Change the channel if you don't need the infom

So, you're saying CNN doesn't actually want their consumers to stay glued to the screen & news feed? Qualify that.

This is about how they intend for their product to be consumed, not how consumers can get maximum utility out of the product.

So the technical solution is to have our news reading environment be aware of which items we've seen, and only alert us when new information on a topic we've expressed an intent to follow comes in.

So imagine that CNN tries to reinvent themselves after this weeks fiasco. They spend a bunch of time and money setting up their newsgathering operation to tag everything with metadata and provide special software to consume the tag feeds and manage users attention; gobs of customisation options, in depth access to the underlying data, not just for financial news, but also the analysis of breaking events and the public reaction thereto. Basically a Bloomberg Terminal, with a broader focus.

And if they do all of that. They will continue to lose money to outlets that treat events as a cross between a circus-freak sideshow and a particularly bloody genre of morality play ( FOX and NYPost, as instances of the Grand Guignol approach to journalism ).

SBNation is pretty good about that with their separate blogs you can individually "subscribe" too and see notifications of new content for, and their commenting platform that keeps track of which comments you've already read.

The latter feature would be spectacular to have on HN. Not having the site tell me which comments are new, and letting me navigate just to them, feels so archaic to me now.

FOX and NYPost, as instances of the Grand Guignol approach to journalism

It's always amusing how Fox is so popular to slam that even in an article where CNN is flamed for doing what they seem to do quite often - you have to go after Fox.

Outside of the talking head shows on Fox, I find their reporting to be as good or better than CNN. I think it's the result of the accepted culture of attacking them because their talking head shows are to the right. They have to be better than the next channel because they're under more scrutiny.

Any news channel whose announcers are so visibly aroused by the prospect of bombing countries that they actively demonize has lost any claim to seriousness, sorry, that's the way it is.

Not sure what specific incident(s) you're talking about, but are you saying that journalists who show bias in some way "lose any claim to seriousness"?

If so, I can point to many examples of bias on all major news and media outlets.

Well, a lot of people are doing it wrong then.

Maybe we need two channels, one that loops(ish) with the latest situation, and another that's just a feed of updates?

Your second premise sounds similar to what Circa does from a news-app standpoint. Curated updates to stories you've designated that you're interested in following-up on.

There's no reason these need to be two channels; they're really two ways of sorting the same information. (I'm building something that I think solves that problem).

You'd think that, but they never step back and give an organized summary.

The way to fix this problem is easy. Cite your sources. "According to a Boston beat cop...", "According to a high-ranking FBI agent..."

I am SO sick of hear "according to a source" because they don't want to clue in other news organizations. There was a time when news reporters considered their jobs partially a civic duty. Protecting sources solely for selfish reasons has completely diluted the concept of these "unnamed sources".

Late yesterday evening as the entire event was winding to a close, I sat on @BostonGlobe's twitter page while listening to the audio stream. Every tweet they put out was nearly identical to what was coming from the scanner audio, prefixed with "A source says ...". The reason it was only "a source" was because no one except the dispatcher and other cops on scene knew exactly who was saying what. It's just some voice coming over the radio who is assumed to be a cop.

This doesn't really fix the problem in television news. Most of the reports I watched cited sources but regularly preceded 'information' with "we can't confirm this but...". Another problem is that the media outlets are citing each other and when one media source spreads false information suddenly all media outlets are spreading it citing the original false information source.

Except when the news puts up source:YouTube which is fairly meaningless.

I am SO sick of hear "according to a source" because they don't want to clue in other news organizations.

Reporters anonymize to protect sources, which in the Western world generally means "keeping them from getting fired" (in much of the world it means "keeping them from getting fired at").

Here's the thing -- either you trust that the reporter/organization has good sources (that they've worked them for long enough that they know that their information is good), or you don't. Adding decorative details on the source (such as "beat cop") does little to support the claims, as often the people who want to talk the most are often the people with the least information.

Which is why it is virtually worthless to listen to random people on Reddit making claims that they cite as backed by their own sources ("my uncle who is a xyz says that..."). I have absolutely no reason to believe the Reddit poster is telling the truth, and even if they were I have no reason to believe that their source is telling the truth.

The world is full of liars and bullshitters. Add in the well-meaning people who "fill in the unknowns" to make the story more interesting....it's just a sea of noise that is overwhelmingly wrong. It's unfortunate that now traditional media feels that they need to fight this static by embracing it (the most laughable being reporters reading "tweets" on topics), the net result being the lowest common denominator for all.

Don Lemon of CNN just now did a segment on how America can start to "heal" with Dr. Drew, so they do have that going for them. Then Wolf at CNN spent about 20 minutes describing how cool thermal imaging of the boat was, while failing to mention the kid was actually discovered after the owner of the boat noticed his boat cover was ripped and went to check it out.

I'm not sure that news outlets like CNN are "broken" per se as they had abandoned "news" a long time ago (would OJ be a turning point?). Just like the History channel is "broken" cable news is "broken". They just don't care about news, it's really about audience retention and ratings. There's really nothing wrong with that, it's just up to us to abandon them just as they have abandoned their original intentions.

While I appreciate the sentiment, there's a very real reason to watch breaking news while you're in the area. My school was shut down and everyone was told to stay inside, which makes it awfully hard to grab a book and let things blow over.

It's a fundamentally different thing to watch the news about somewhere else then it is to watch the news about where you are.

New York Times's "The Lede" was perfectly fine as an online resource.

From what I've read, MSNBC's Pete Williams - I think it was - also did a stellar job, which could mean that "fixing" breaking news just means turning to MSNBC instead of CNN.

Twitter is as good as the people you follow. Duh.

Stupid linkbait article.

Easy solution: Don't read, listen to, or watch the news.

If I recall correctly, there was even an article about this idea on Hacker News just a few days ago.

If there is ever anything really important, I am bound to hear it via conversations with my family, friends, or co-workers. Or even a quick scan of headlines on HN. No need to be glued to CNN.

However, articles on HN about inspiring topics, software engineering principles, or new ways of thinking, there's something worth reading.

Ridiculous article, IMHO. Breaking news isn't 'broken', it's just that there's an immaturity in the consumers of breaking news when trying to interpret the info.

For instance, a couple of years ago when I first joined Twitter after realizing it was the best way to get breaking news (i.e. I literally joined to follow @BreakingNews), one of the first breaking news tweets I ran into was "NORTH KOREA SAYS WAR WILL RETURN TO THE CONTINENT". My initial reaction was "wow, I'm glad I joined Twitter and have early access to this important information". It didn't take long to realize that while the breaking news was true in that it quoted an official NK representative, it was useless in alerting me to a new war because I was not yet aware that NK pulls this kind of stunt relatively frequently.

While there are plenty of incidents in the past week where false information was spread, it doesn't imply to me that I should ignore breaking news until it is properly spoon fed to me in a newspaper article the next day. Instead, it just reminds me that something like a feed from an unfiltered police scanner should be considered as a source of limited information about an occurring event.

You sound like someone still addicted to breaking news.

The point of the article is that the reliable information value of breaking news is exactly zero. Until you get the summarized and verified end-of-week report, you're being entertained instead of informed.

Breaking news is lead generation. It's a stream of leads which may turn out to have a fact at the end. The right audience for that are journalists, not regular people. Tracking live news without doublechecking everything you hear is a way of satisfying information addiction, but it is not a way of getting informed.

I get your point and think it's well stated, I just don't see that it's valid for all types of breaking news. My usage of breaking news is mostly related to participation in the stock market. Sometimes there is breaking news that will immediately alter the outlook for stocks and bonds around the globe.

For instance, the Bank of Japan recently set a target of purchasing 60-70 trillion yen worth of long-term debt and securities per year in an effort to fight against deflation. This type of news is released unpredictably and waiting for an "end-of-week report" may not adequately meet my asset management goals.

I would argue the fault lies as much with the traditional media in displaying what is really wishy-washy as die-hard fact in order to get views/pageviews/whatever else they need.

I agree with your placing blame on traditional media displaying unverified information as facts, for sure. I guess the point I was trying to make is more that much of the incorrect info spread last week was a result of a chain reaction of people incorrectly interpreting breaking news.

For instance, on the matter of blaming the missing Brown student, I remember comments in a reddit thread that were quickly deleted showing a comparison of the face of the Brown student with the officially released FBI photos of "Suspect #2". The comment didn't claim they were the same person, it just raised the question. However, it only took minutes for the reddit hivemind to jump to the conclusion that the Brown student was "Suspect #2"

Yes, the issue with the breaking news fiasco is that there's no more fact-checking built in. I believe that everyday people are just as capable to fact-check as anyone with a degree from Columbia J-School, but erasing something from the Internet is hard. News sites need to work in a way to show "this has been refuted as false" into their reports.

The top ranking story on reddit.com/r/news was constantly updated with corrections/clarifications and citing sources with their level of trustworthiness.

It was edited, but not until later in the day did someone suggest using strikeouts to debunk old material instead of "let's make sure we have the best info we have up here." If you're just editing the text, misconceptions remain.

It's not so much that "breaking news is broken" as that breaking news has certain specific failure modes.

When "breaking news" is covering an ongoing disaster or police action, where the information they're getting is potentially second- or third-hand, and where the primary sources might not fully understand what they themselves witnessed, there's a lot of opportunity to go wrong. Crimes and disasters may play out very differently from expectations, and may therefore require careful after-the-fact analysis of every available shred of information, before they're actually understood.

On the other hand, certain events can be fully and clearly understood right as they happen. Consider "new Pope selected", "tornado spotted 3 miles west of Townsville", or "School track team takes second at Rival Invitational; Person wins 4 individual events". Official announcements, or events happening according to an understood pattern, generally come through the "breaking news" cycle without problems.

I basically stumbled onto this strategy this week. My job doesn't leave me with much time to obsessively follow breaking news on Twitter or TV. The first day or two, I listened to NPR for a couple of hours (full disclosure: I work at a member-station). But it wasn't until the next morning, reading my dead-tree edition of The New York Times, that I felt like I had a decent grasp of what the facts were.

Of course there are limitations: my NYT still had the suspects at large Friday morning. Obviously the story had developed considerably since press time.

Nevertheless, Manjoo's point is well-taken. If you don't live in the immediate vicinity (and thus need the news for personal safety), your knowledge -- and your blood pressure -- will probably benefit from a bit of moderation in news consumption.

The problem isn't that there are unconfirmed reports floating around, that has always been the case and always will be. The problem is that the major news bodies are reporting unsubstantiated rumors as truth without having the time to investigate.

Basically news is a race, and since the major reporting institutions used to be the only ones racing they would always win, so they would make sure they would do it right. Now they're racing with Twitter, yet trying to have the same authority as they used to. It's a race you can't win.

Just listen to the news for a few minutes and you'll hear "Many sources are saying that..." That really means "We're watching Twitter, and..." but they're not willing to admit that they don't really know for sure.

As someone who exclusively followed this story online, the idea that it can replace traditional media is much overstated. Traditional media might grasp at straws and over-analyze, but you at least get some indication of what is going on. The last hour of the standoff I had no idea what was going on other than the suspect was in a boat. And I was following all of the people you're supposed to.

On a personal note, I found myself nervous all of Friday. I did check twitter frequent, refresh a few websites, etc. So from a sanity standpoint, I completely agree with the author and I'll be taking the advice next time. Go do something productive. Get your mind off the horror; you can update yourself tomorrow.

You can update yourself tomorrow if you live far away. You can update yourself tomorrow if your wife wasn't a few blocks away a couple hours before the bombing happened, and if she didn't leave downtown on foot and unknowingly walk right by the bombers' apartment. You can update yourself tomorrow if the cop who got killed doesn't live three blocks away. You can update yourself tomorrow if the carjacking didn't happen right in front of your office. You can update yourself tomorrow if you're not wondering if someone you know is about to be killed by the bomber. You can update yourself tomorrow if no one has told you to stay inside and has shut down the public transit system. All of which were true for me this week.

Otherwise, yes, go about your business. There's no way you can react like this to every tragedy everywhere and retain your sanity.

[Also, I was watching local Boston TV, periodically listening to the Boston NPR radio station, and following Twitter (where some people were relaying what was being said on the police radios); all of those can be done online. For the last hour about all that came out was that the guy was in a boat, there were some noises that were maybe gunshots, but not clear who was firing, maybe the cops were using stun grenades, and finally they announced he had been captured. But mostly that was just waiting, because they deliberately weren't giving out information right then, so I'm not surprised you didn't know what was going on, no matter what your news source. By the way, as someone non-local who were "all of the people you're supposed to" follow?]

Look, I understand how nerve-wrecking the events of the whole week were. I no longer live in Cambridge, but I still have family in Boston. I have friends working at MIT, right at the Stata Building.

But at the same time, and I think this is the point of the article: do you realize how futile was the "constant updating yourself" through the media? First, no matter how frequent and recent are the updates, there is nothing you can do to change the events past. And second, if you are as close to the unfolding of events as you were, you will have better information than the media anyway. For me at least, much more effective than waiting for the radio was a simple call/text/FB ping on the people I knew and I was worried about.

So, for the record, I live a few blocks from the bombing suspects' apartment, and I work less than a block from where the MIT officer was shot. Without following timely updates, I would have had no idea of the following:

- That I was asked to help keep the streets clear

- More specifically, that I should not go to work

- Though it turned out that there was no need for a controlled detonation, if one had occurred less than a mile from my home, the news reports are the only way I'd know what it was. I could have harassed the officers, but I wasn't going to do that either way.

- Later, that it was OK to leave my home

- Still later, that the manhunt was over and my plans in Watertown this morning could proceed as normal

This is all real, actionable information for me that was reported correctly. I think on the average, I'm better off with that information, even if there was also some garbage mixed in.

Also, what would have happened if the owner of the boat hadn't been following breaking news when the stay-home request was lifted? The bombing suspect would likely have died where he was and not been found until morning. Everyone's better off for that sequence of events.

I don't think you were following the "all the people you're supposed to", then. In this particular case, Reddit did an awesome job of staying up to date (and correcting misinformation).

EDIT: http://www.reddit.com/r/news/comments/1cnwms/mods_removed_th...

Specifically, the Live Update threads on reddit.com/r/news were amazingly detailed. I'm not normally a reddit user, but the minute-by-minute details went way beyond what I found elsewhere. (Although you end up with a lot of unfiltered stuff - anyone know what's up with the 70-year old man with the trigger switch that was being discussed there?)

On the other hand, Fox made me gnash my teeth when a reporter on the street in Boston presented "breaking news" that there would be a press conference in a few hours, which is hardly news let alone breaking news.

I disagree. Particularly when nothing is happening, you can't beat a TV crew telling you that nothing is happening (or talking about / repeating old information which is the same thing as saying nothing is happening).

When all you have is a twitter stream and a few websites to cmd+r you are left with the feeling that you are missing something. It's the advantage of visual media and aggregation.

I followed one extra Twitter user (guy from Global Grind) and listened to a police scanner. That was enough to get me much more information than he was in a boat. There was information about movement, a negotiator, things being called out to him, flashbangs being announced, info about thermal images from a chopper, talk of robots and explosives teams being involved or considered, etc.

I didn't need to know all of this, but I found following it all very gripping and wanted to hear the capture played out.

I'm not a regular reddit user, but the thread(s) on the manhunt were more accurate than, and often scooped, the CNN talking heads I had on in the background.

Generally speaking I'd say that the problem is more that most daily news will give you a distorted view of the world as you come to believe that newsworthy things are much more common than they really are. I try to follow the news only on a week to week only basis, a long enough lag to let people actually get their facts straight before rushing to report. Reading the wikipedia pages for events also tends to result in a really good summary without excess fluff.

Of course, last Friday I was stuck inside with everyone else in my section of Boston and I mostly spent the day following my friends with scanners on zephyr. So the temptation does get to be too much when the news is too close by.

I've thought this for quite some time, but it became especially clear to me yesterday. I was at the gym where TVs were unavoidably visible, but the volume was turned down so I couldn't hear anything. I was there for an hour or so and the picture and headline didn't appear to change at all the entire time. It said something about cops with guns drawn in Watertown...THE WHOLE FRIGGING TIME!

I have almost zero interest in the sports stuff that normally graces the gym TVs, but yesterday I was longing for ESPN. This just leaves me more convinced than ever that mainstream news the way it exists today is actually harmful to society.

So's opinion-writing based on breaking news. Slate's just feeling blowback from the clumsily-written opinion piece they published earlier this week in which one of their writers expressed the hope that the bombers were white Americans - presumably because he doesn't want to see another ill-thought-out foreign military adventure.

A worthy enough sentiment on its own, but expressed so insensitively and divisively that these criticisms come across as nothing more than an attempt by the publisher to deflect scrutiny onto other media outlets.

I completely agree with the comments here that news coverage has devolved into addictive popcorn munching fare. Sadly, this onion piece hits home: http://www.theonion.com/articles/breaking-has-the-word-break...

Having worked in PR, I truly feel the world of media and journalism needs some serious disruption (hate that I used the word, kill me now). Hopefully some startup is cranking away :-)

Twitter as news is bleeding edge, not for the weak hearts, and it is not trying to replace news channels.

most of the initial tweets were wrong, you are seeing the thought process before it has been confirmed.

One good part, with people tweeting and the power of amplifying via retweets, it would tough to stage events as in conspiracies

In fact, I often just read the Wikipedia article after the facts. It is often must better organized than the combination of articles from the days before.

Of course, the news did help, it made me aware of the event in question happening. But it's not really the source of actual information.

...I’m choosing not to mention his name here, that’s not going to accomplish very much—it’s already been stained.

How about, instead of your current headline, you put his name in your headline, along with the words, "HE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT!"

Studies suggest that trying to correct myths and errors in this way tends to backfire. I did correct posts I'd already made tying the Brown student to the bombers.

it is some sort of human phenomenon, where we put up with a lot of inconveniences just to get the real time (or near real time) experience of something..

i think waiting in line for an apple product, putting up with commercials to watch some tv show on the night it airs, paying large premiums for a device that will be a lot cheaper in 6 months, wasting hours in live news coverage to be the first to hear about the new developments of the story all fall into the same category. it just doesn't make sense because all of these things are better at a later time. when there are no lines, and the story is polished and more factually correct.

Not just news, it is often better to be unplugged most of the time if you like to get your creative juices flowing. The constant distractions are actually the real roadblocks to critical thinking and creativity these days.

I like when media takes an effort to critique itself but since the critics are generally simply writers, no actual progress is made in bettering things.

It has all of the effectiveness of a meeting that results in no action items.

It's worth noting that TV news had the same impact on print as social media now has on TV news. It's very new right now and we're finding our way.

Upvoted for the (TL;DR) byline alone:

Don’t watch cable news. Shut off Twitter. You’d be better off cleaning your gutters.

Too true.

Newsflash: Rumors move faster than facts.

Film at 11. Uninformed conjecture at 10.

It's only the old public information structure that is broken. A purpose-built public information system is already well into development and early-adopters are seeing the future. I'm lean and committed, so feel free to engage in rational argument.

The recipe:

1) Geospatial information system 2) Transparency 3) Exclusively peer-generated content


On "Exclusively peer-generated content", you may want to add the stuff you create here on HN to nwzpaper.com, especially after having read your thoughts on Assange and anonymity.

It's just a php copy/paste - http://en.blog.guylhem.net/post/48447265179/adding-a-hacker-...

I can write a javascript version for you if you want.

Thanks for the input! I tend to adapt my comments into articles when the entire thought comes together coherently. I will write an article on the flaws of anonymity. Opportunity cost means trade-offs exist, but the internet already has plenty of anonymous conduits for sharing information.

Addendum to the JS thoughts:

As people saw with RSS after reader went down, the data structure isn't consistent across the RSS world either. That makes the reader problem more complex than first perceived.

Rather than try to distill complex content and fit it into a para-structure, nwzPaper is designed to be a transparent third-party to standardize article format in the publishing form:

1) title 2) abstract 3) location pin 4) article body 5) media

Each article includes the journalist's name--not to be confused with the new legal distinction of blogger--and a link to his or her content inventory and a link to a structured "perspective" to interpret the journalist's information product through.

If a search engine or aggregator organizes third-party content there will always be an indexing/crawling delay. That makes traditional search brands only useful for non-news, historic information query and analysis.

Search was a big deal ten years ago because it got rid of categories, but it is insufficient for solving the news problem.

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