Twitter Breaks News of the Boston Marathon Explosions

Injuries reported, photos disseminated, Google launches Person Finder

Two blasts near the finish line of the Boston Marathon caused at least 23 injuries—six critical—and two confirmed deaths this afternoon—Twitter broke the story and Twitter continues to aggregate it with photos and briefs from the scene, while other news organizations prepare deeper reporting. Vine captured the scene here, too. 

Still, it was old media that new media turned to first: the Boston Globe's coverage was retweeted and reposted throughout the news world as reporters grappled with new information flooding in about the blast (one or two?) the scope of the injuries (gruesome reports from the scene) and the parties responsible (no leads as of this writing).

UPDATE: Google has added the category "Boston Marathon Explosions" to its Person Finder tool, designed to help friends and family members locate loved ones during humanitarian disasters. President Obama gave a brief press conference this evening, saying that "We still do not know who did this or why, and people shouldn't jump to conclusions before they have all the facts, but make no mistake, we will get to the bottom of this." The conference was short on information—every reporter present appeared to ask Obama whether he'd describe the blasts as "terrorism" as he left the podium. He did say, however, that "any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice," and praised the people of Boston for their resilience. "I am supremely confident that Bostonians will pull together and move forward," he said. Obama ended the address just after 6:15—a tight turnaround for the 6:30 newscasts, but a doable one.

The Wall Street Journal and New York Times removed their paywalls for coverage of the events, as they've done before for other major news. (Note: When embedded within the Adweek content management system, the following tweets' time-stamps were inexplicably pushed ahead by roughly four hours. Clicking through the tweets reveals the actual publish times.)


The marathon was officially canceled shortly after the blasts, according to BuzzFeed, which also tweeted photos of the explosion itself; meanwhile, the local CBS affiliate was first on the scene with live video footage, but its website couldn't keep up with the traffic at first. The Globe and sibling site, too, saw server-crushing numbers of visitors wanting to know what had happened, when and why—but recovered quickly. Their phones were down, too. Cell networks were clogged; tweeters recommended texting. Reporters tweeting were also seeking more solid material for their stories, including, among many others, the Today Show:


There were conflicting reports about the number dead (most curiously, reporting two, The New York Post reporting 12). The coverage will no doubt lead to some media soul-searching, as various news sites posted a grisly photo of the explosion scene, some (Gawker, New York Post) showing less restraint than others. The Atlantic Wire took a middle ground, using a warning screen to alert viewers to a particularly bloody photo in a slideshow. The Society for Professional Journalists posted this tweet, sure to be ignored by many:


Then there was the out-and-out misinformation and speculation—mostly of the finger-pointing variety. CNN's Jane Harman continued to talk about Al Qaeda despite no evidence whatsoever of any credible claim from a terrorist group, Islamic or otherwise, and blogger/podcaster Alex Jones (a proponent of the "9/11 Truth" conspiracy movement) started the #falseflag hashtag on Twitter, immediately claiming that the explosions were the work of the U.S. government. To be fair, Harman posited several scenarios after leading the the Al Qaeda guess, prompting plenty of ire from viewers:

And some of the journalistic trouble was simple poor timing. The explosion led to some awkward tweets as news of the Pulitzer Prizes came out nearly simultaneously:

Scott Monty, head of social media at Ford Motor Co., had some sound advice for his brethren at other brands:




Clearly, some marketers are still lacking finesse in using the nascent medium, though, as some let promoted tweets slip into the stream, like this unfortunate one: