Wednesday, May 25, 2011
NoMi Tornado and Irresponsible Journalism
The tornado and the aftermath were tough enough on NoMi, but once again we weren't helped out by at least one media entity. Fox 9 initially reported gunshots and looting in North Minneapolis in conjunction with the tornado. (Warning: do not read the comment section of that article unless you are standing next to someone you can punch without legal repercussions.) I'm not sure what came first, the mainstream media or the tweet, but Twitter was full of misinformation and racist comments. Most likely Twitter was breaking the "news" of the looting that wasn't before Fox picked it up.
Shortly after the storm, I was getting text messages and phone calls from people, some of which reported looting all along Broadway. So when I went to try and help out a friend, I intentionally took a route that went along Broadway for as long as possible. From 94 to James, you'd hardly know a tornado hit, and there were certainly no signs of looting either taking place or having had taken place. Nobody could get anywhere near Penn and Broadway, the site of the ONLY confirmed looting incident. But the barricades could have been for any number of reasons.
If the rumor mill was to be believed though, Broadway and north Minneapolis in general had descended into chaos. On the ground, this was clearly not the case. I understand the pull to break news before anyone else, whether it's via blogging, Facebook, Twitter, or any other medium. I mean, in a world where Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson can break the news of bin Laden's death, who's to say that you or I can't stumble upon the next huge story through social media?
Here's the problem with being too hasty...
...As a result, people worldwide believe or believed that we were experiencing widespread looting. With virtually no hard evidence available, Kevin Hoffman at the City Pages tweeted the following: "Starting to fear that, like Katrina, the chaos after the storm may be more destructive."
And then what happens? Tweet after tweet "reports" looting and gunshots in north Minneapolis in conjunction with the storm. A lazy enough reporter doesn't even have to to much fact checking, as long as he or she lays out the qualifier of "reported" looting, gunshots" in conjunction with the storm. After all, now that it's been reported, phrasing the allegations that way makes it technically true. Before you know it, Twitterers (or Twits) as far away as Egypt or France are parroting the looting angle.
At the risk of perpetrating the notion that this neighborhood is like a prequel to "The Road Warrior," only less structured, piling on news of gunshots in conjunction with the storm only makes it worse. According to weekly compilations of shot spotter data, gunshots are somewhat common here. (I'd like to see that data for the week of the tornado and compare it to other times as well.) Also keep in mind that the shot spotters cover only a small portion of the city. Don't look at those maps and think those are the ONLY areas where shots were fired.
Thankfully both Twitter and Fox 9 have dialed down the rhetoric at least a little, with Fox going so far as to emphasize that the looting was an isolated incident. But the damage was already done. The city-imposed curfew and "exclusion zone" were set up not to impose a quasi-martial law on northsiders, but to keep scavengers from outside of the community from slipping in and causing harm to our community and residents.
In this day and age, wit the technology we have available, legend becomes reality faster than ever before. What do YOU want the legend of our community's response to the tornado to be?