Rules of thumb for staying informed

Reporters use laptop computers, iPads and ink and paper to take notes during a panel discussion

I used to live with two packed suitcases: One at home, one at the office. Whatever I needed for a week on the road if a big story broke. When I left for the BP oil spill, I didn’t come home for four months.

Breaking news can exhibit a mysterious pull over those of us who do this for a living: the need to see things up close, ask questions, witness scraps of history.

In that life before Marketplace, one of the things I covered was aviation. And so I am sadly riveted to the story of Malaysia Airlines flight 17. Exchanging emails with old sources, looking at debris, and imagining the cruel depths 298 families now find themselves in.

Layered on top of the Israeli military invasion of Gaza, so much tragedy and death can be overwhelming. As a prolific social media consumer, I have to say that this post from the satirical @thetweetofgod felt achingly poignant:

Sometimes, at moments like these, we turn away for our own self-preservation.

I’d like to advocate against that.

We live in a remarkable time for storytelling. News outlets are experimenting with all sorts of ways to do journalism. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and so many other services let us experience what other people see, think and hear. There is vitriol out there, sure. But there are opportunities for human connection and empathy.

So here are my rules of thumb for a moment like this:

1)     Trust the pros. Breaking stories move fast, and even the best news coverage is never perfect. But professional journalists will do their best to verify, distill, and double check.

2)     Never forget the watching witness. Abraham Zapruder captured perhaps the very first iconic piece of “crowd-sourced” video. A bystander or someone with a cell phone may witness history (I trust services like storyful.com to verify social content).

3)     Remember to be human. Take a moment to learn about those passengers. Each one was loved by someone – probably many someones. Every person on board changed lives, and indeed, at least one altered history.

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the host of Marketplace Weekend.

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