And, yep: Last week's big breaking news story brought, as it always does, a long string of misinformation that was spread and then amplified by the media. The running man. The Reddit bomber hunts. The police scanners that were connected, via human interfaces, to Twitter. We were awash in data, but had, at first, very few ways to convert it into knowledge.
This, says Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed, was not new. "There was this illusion pre-Twitter that news wasn't messy," he told me. But breaking news on any platform, he notes, has always been messy. And dealing with the chaos -- ordering it, prioritizing it, deciding what to emphasize and what to underplay -- is part of what it means to be a news organization, particularly in a real-time news environment like the one the web has given us. Buzzfeed, home of cats and corgis and 26 Reasons Kids Are Pretty Much Just Tiny Drunk Adults, was one of the outlets engaging in that real-time Swiffery last week. Buzzfeed's visits, like those of many other news sites, spiked as people in the U.S. and abroad hungrily sought news about the bombings and their perpetrators. "We had people coming to us in a new way to see what was going on," Smith says. And while it wasn't the first time Buzzfeed found people turning toward it as a source for breaking news -- the site has found again and again, Smith says, that people flock to it during big, breaking-news events -- "I was really proud of our coverage, and we learned a lot from it."