Police ordered everyone in the entire city of Boston to lock themselves inside wherever they were. Tanks rolled down city streets. Subways shut down. Gunshots ricocheted in residential areas.
So far, a 19-year-old kid has eluded this massive manhunt for hours after his older brother was gunned down by officers he attacked, including one he killed, in Friday’s wee hours.
“Up since 3:50 a.m. and can’t get enough of this story,” wrote one of my Facebook friends who is a journalist. “Woke up the troops around 4:15, and a long day ahead. Hard to explain to non-journos, but I can’t imagine doing anything else at a time when so many rely on us to share information.”
I’ve been in news for 15 years and am well acquainted with the instinct that drives us toward the center of action.
But I’m not sure that was the only factor at play on Friday. I’m not even sure it was the primary one.
“Boston currently looks like an episode of 24,” wrote another non-journalist friend.
Another one compared it to “Law & Order”.
Sure enough, something about the way we watched the pursuit of (do we even have his name yet?) felt like entertainment. We were feverish about it. One friend told me an acquaintance’s father woke her at 4:45 to tell her to turn on her television. Another used the word “fetish”. A third was more forgiving:
“I think some of it is that it feels like a real-life action movie playing out. People imagine George Clooney chasing down some kid on a crowded city street before the showdown on an empty subway train.
“But I also like to think some of it is hope that they’ll catch the person responsible soon, and they’re waiting to see. People want to see some resolution to a horrible attack.
“I think more of it’s the action movie part though, sadly.”
I have rewritten the closing to this column a few times now because, to be honest, I am not sure where I stand on it yet.
Part of me wants to rake the news media and the consumers who drive our decision-making over the coals for our lack of circumspection.
We’ve created and filled a demand for constant information, including “developing” information. We’ve created a demand for news that is entertaining. And we’ve created a demand to share and discuss it all to the point that we’re spreading rumors and making ridiculous statements like this one, from a person I went to high school with:
“Ever wonder why bad (expletive) like Boston only happens up north? You never hear of this (expletive) happening in the south. Us gun-toting rednecks won’t put up with that crap. Maybe y’all anti gun toting Yankees should wise up and arm yourselfs (sic). Just sayin.”
Thank you, self-proclaimed redneck, for that.
But when the dust has settled, and it will, I think I will come to the conclusion that this collective seeking and sharing of a story is ultimately part of what it means to be a human being.
Last Sunday, the day before the bombs exploded at the finish line, I woke up to a long-anticipated text message from a close family friend. Upon seeing it, I yelled immediately for my daughter.
“Lily!!! Catherine’s water broke!!!”
A flurry of texting, calling, news sharing, family crowdsourcing, and personal “developing” storytelling followed. And, several hours later, my daughter had a cousin.
Watching and sharing is not just what we do in times of tragedy or breaking news.
The difference is – and this is key – we didn’t post anything on the Internet until the parents were ready for that.
A lot of people watching the news unfold in Boston said things like “Our prayers are with Boston,” and I believe those posts were earnest. I just wonder if Boston wanted us hovering like we did. Glued to our screens like they weren’t real people.