On a wild night of news, a remarkable press performance

While Reddit fails again

Last night was one of the wildest nights of news I can ever recall.

With Boston already on edge in the wake of the bombing of the Boston Marathon, the two suspects fingered by the FBI on Thursday set off on a rampage.

First, news came of the murder of an MIT police officer, which looked like a possible signal that the suspects had been on campus. Not long afterward, it emerged that there had been a 7-Eleven robbery nearby shortly before the shooting. And then reports of dozens of speeding cop cars, gunfire, and explosions in Cambridge and Watertown. The two suspected terrorists had carjacked a Mercedes SUV, kidnapped its driver (letting the victim go, unharmed, after thirty minutes), and led cops on a chase through the Boston suburbs, tossing bombs out the windows—as if in a video game—and shooting at police. At least one officer was hit.

Suspect No. 1, who reportedly had an IED strapped to his chest, is dead. Suspect No. 2 is on the loose, and much of Boston is effectively shut down. There’s what is effectively a daytime curfew in six suburbs, including Watertown and Cambridge, with residents told to not leave their homes and for businesses to remain and the entire Boston mass transit system has been shuttered.

It was and still is a fluid, fast-moving, murky, and deadly news situation.

From everything I saw all night from the West Coast, the press performed admirably. The Boston Globe had reporters on the scene and set up a liveblog to collect their tweets and pictures. It scooped that the suspects being pursued were indeed the marathon bombing suspects.

The local TV news that I watched was measured and responsible, but broke news. WHDH was first to report, well before anyone else, that one of the suspects was dead.

NBC’s Pete Williams led the national reporting with solid, authoritative reports, and the AP got a couple of big scoops, including the name of the suspect at large. The journalist Seth Mnookin, who teaches at MIT, provided vivid reportage from the scene on Twitter. Andrew Kitzenberg, a citizen, had terrific eyewitness reports and photos from his window, where he saw the two suspects, brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, exchange gunfire with police and throw an unwieldy bomb at them, with Dzhokhar escaping after driving toward police.

And then there were the keyboard crimefighters at Reddit. At one point a police dispatcher, apparently incorrectly, said that the suspects’ names were Sunil Tripathi, a Brown student who disappeared last month, and Mike Mulugeta. Reddit, still smarting from the backlash to their amateur sleuthing, took a very premature victory lap, as you can see here:

Here’s a sample:

Reddit will soon replace the FBI…

Dang, put the old media to shame!…

This is historic Internet sleuthing. I Facebook linked his page hours before and someone took it off my profile…

Good job Reddit, we caught him!

Maybe next time, guys.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,