On Viral Videos: We Should Weigh In When We Have Something To Add

Jan 28, 2019
Originally published on July 3, 2019 12:06 pm

There are surely many lessons to be relearned from the media's coverage of the video showing Kentucky high school students and a Native American singer/drummer at the Lincoln Memorial.

This one is very important:

We don't necessarily have to report about such videos until we have more to say than that they exist.

Keep in mind:

- One video may not tell a complete story.

- It's very likely we won't know how it was edited.

- We may know nothing about the motivations of the person who made the video.

- We may know nothing about the motivations of the person who posted the video (and whether it's the person who made it).

OK, so what do we do?

The short answer is: report. Talk to the people in the video and any witnesses. Find angles that other media don't have. Ask and answer questions that haven't been addressed. Look for holes in the conventional wisdom. Explain what isn't yet known. Find out who made the video and that person's motive. Press for and collect reactions from elected officials, prosecutors, police and others whose words might move the story forward.

"But, everyone else is reporting about it," you may say. "We can't wait."

Yes, there are times when that may be critical to our thinking.

But, we should also consider whether this is true:

"Everyone else is reporting about it. We can wait until we have our own take. That's what will set us apart."

One more thought.

As we said in one of the earliest Memmos, it's our job to be skeptical. Not cynical, but skeptical. A question to keep asking about such videos and what "everybody's saying," is "really, how do they know that? I'm skeptical."

Related reading/listening:

- On the Media's conversation with tech writer Charlie Warzel, who makes the case that the media often react too quickly and leave behind much needed nuance.

- Our ombudsman's column, "Unraveling A Washington Mall Confrontation, Frame By Frame."

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