Journalists too quick to call Boston explosions a terrorist attack?

The aftermath of the explosions (Russavia/Wikimedia Commons)

The aftermath of the explosions (Russavia/Wikimedia Commons)

With the rapid speed of today’s media content production, journalists do not have hours to formulate theories or approaches to breaking news stories, especially not deadly emergencies like Monday’s Boston Marathon explosions. Tanveer Ali, in a post for the Columbia Journalism Review, urges journalists to use caution when thinking about attaching the word “terrorism” to the attack that killed three and reportedly injured more than 100.

“The media has no role, since it has no expertise, in determining whether an act is one of terrorism or not,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism scholar at Georgetown University, in an email to Ali. “One thing is that they should resist pressing the authorities, pundits, and those who have specialized in studying terrorism for many decades to speculate on who may have done it and why.”

The White House did not label the attack an act of terrorism, though they said the FBI is investigating it as such. On Monday, CNN made an editorial decision to call the Boston event a terrorist attack, and in Europe papers like The Guardian called it a terror attack almost immediately.

Though the FBI even admits the definition of terrorism is hard to pin down, the term does represent a certain weight to Americans with a post-9/11 attitude about explosions. In a democracy where the media ultimately establishes terminology, Ali says it’s best for journalists to avoid the word “terrorism” until clearer notions of what happened prevail.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes maintains diversity on show

MSNBC host Chris Hayes has figured out a way to increase diversity on his show: he makes sure that not all of his guests are white men. Columbia Journalism Review’s Ann Friedman interviewed Hayes after reading a Media Matters chart that showed that 57 percent of Hayes’ guests are not white men.

“We just would look at the board and say, ‘We already have too many white men. We can’t have more.’ Really that was it,” Hayes said. “Always, constantly just counting. Monitoring the diversity of the guests along gender lines, and along race and ethnicity lines. A general rule is if there are four people sitting at table, only two of them can be white men.”

They also make up for shows when they can’t book fewer than three white men. Hayes also said that the increased diversity of the guests inevitably increases the diversity of the subject matter discussed on the show, pushing him further away from the television news status quo.

While diversity remains a passive-aggressive issue with the media, Hayes’ primetime show keeps it simple by realizing there’s no difficult secret to avoiding a monopoly of white dudes.

Freelancing: To pay or not to pay

There's light at the end of the tunnel. (RambergMediaImages/Flickr Creative Commons)

There’s light at the end of the tunnel. (RambergMediaImages/Flickr Creative Commons)

The topic of paid and unpaid freelance writing continues to develop Thursday. While someone accused Nate Thayer of plagiarizing the North Korea piece he wrote that set this all off, Ann Friedman at the Columbia Journalism Review broke down her freelancing philosophy.

Friedman pays her bills with a number of freelancing gigs, including two columns, and has created a paradigm that allows her to do unpaid and low-pay work that may benefit her in other ways. She separates her approach to doing free/low-pay work into four categories: to establish experience; because she was writing it anyway; to raise her profile; and to be part of a project she loves.

Unpaid work, she says, is a great way for some writers to make headway. It can even lead to some happy accidents, as it did for her when she started publishing some “silly, hand-drawn charts” for free, and it led to her getting a job to draw for a monthly magazine.

And then there’s Paul Carr, arguing for a sort of return to the high-flying days of Big Journali$m, when (apparently) a reporter could expense the purchase of a Mustang on assignment. Read the comments on this one — not everyone agrees with him — but it’s quite a defense of the value of in-depth, well-reported, and expensive stories.