Friday, April 26, 2013

A Boston Native Ruminates on the Marathon Bombings and the Media

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 11:26 AM

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Scene writer Sean Maloney is passionate about a lot of things — Thin LizzySwedish metal, arepas, to name just a few. But perhaps most of all, he's bonkers for his hometown of Boston.

And to show his love, he's organized a show at Mercy Lounge on May 9: "Dirty Water — a Benefit for the Boston Bombing Victims," featuring local artists playing some of the greatest songs ever to come out of the city. Proceeds will go to the One Fund Boston, formed by Gov. Deval Patrick and Mayor Tom Menino to help the people most affected by the bombings.

Below, Sean reflects on the tragedy, the greatness of his city, and the way the media has covered the event:

In the smoke, fire, panic and gore of the Boston Marathon bombings last week, all I could see was the odd tranquility I experienced shortly after a prior tragedy. The most eerily calm morning of my life was being replayed over the most horrific thing to happen in my hometown in generations. In that moment, as I first saw the bombs rip through Boylston Street, as runners and supporters hit the ground and the first responders dove into action, all I could see was perfect stillness that had been permanently etched into my brain on that same block, nearly 12 years ago.

It was Thursday, Sept. 13, 2001. I strolled up the stairs out of the the Copley Square train stop, making sure to check the secret square, the token-collector on the side of the turnstile — a sad little grift, but also a steady supply of free subway rides that has since been supplanted by the “Charlie Card” and it's automated machinations. With my Dunkin Donuts in hand and Boston Globe under my arm, I just strode out of the station through the cloud of hobo-pee scent — one of the advantages of having America's oldest subway is that you also have America's oldest pee-stench — and into a the sort of New England September morning so perfect it inspired a hundred poems you might recall from your ninth-grade required reading. A cloudless sky above, a subtle breeze on the face of a city that hadn’t quite woken up from the nightmare two days prior, as if the entire municipality was trying to hit snooze simultaneously.

I rode the first commuter train out of the suburbs that day, eager to escape my parents' exurb after 36 hours of gorging on cable news terror-porn. I didn't have anywhere to go (in a bizarre confluence of events, I managed to get laid off from my day job on the 9/11), and had nothing to do until it was time for my second job — scratch that, only job — later that night. I was a man without purpose in a country so shocked it may have shit itself, a former electroplater and heterosexual cashier at a historically gay greeting card store; I was listless and shiftless, and sure wasn't in the mood to get strip-mauled into uselessness.

So I sat on the steps of the Boston Public Library — a gorgeous building that is truly a tribute to the wonders of written communication — drank my coffee and read my newspaper, soaking in the late-summer sun. The city would eventually wipe the strung-out, over-stressed sleep from its eyes. More people would pass by, waving, smiling often just happy to be alive and ready to show it. The city was in shock, and suddenly everyone was nice to each other. It was surreal, stunning and beautiful; tranquility in a place known for it's turbulence and turn-over, and so much of that attributable to the steady hands of those at the Globe. The acuity of the reporting, the quality of those words on that newsprint was enough to make sense of a nonsensical act. There was a comfort in having professionals trying to get to the bottom of exactly what in the fuck happened.

When I come out of that hazy 12-year-old memory dream — whiplashed back to this moment, back to the reality of 2013 and all the bullshit that entails, the Marathon exploding on endless loop on my flat-screen, my smartphone in extra-needy-pay-attention-motherfucker mode, a social network that's gone from slow and steady to apeshit insane with family and friends reaching out — there's a two-way tie for World's Biggest Search-Engine-Baiting Shitheads. My newsfeed is just wave after wave of the New York Post's imaginary Saudi suspect, Alex Jones' false flags, and message-board Magnum P.I.s out to 'stache their way to solving this crime. And it only went downhill from there — friends in the city freaking out, spreading misinformation as if it were gospel, awash in a sea of bullshit. Otherwise sane, skeptical people are latching onto fringe ideas because the fringe filled the holes left by journalism's need to, oh, you know, check facts and confirm sources and shit like that. Even if the terrorists weren't going to win, the trolls had a fighting chance.

By the time the sun rose last Friday after a sleepless night — my slumber derailed by a call from a panicked friend trying to get home from a gig only to discover a gunfight and a dead cop in between him and his home — the Internet had falsely accused a handful of people because every asshole on Reddit thinks he could star in his own CSI franchise, and for some fucking reason people think notorious pubescent joke-generator 4chan is an actual news source. Cable had proved itself to be equal parts dangerous and useless earlier in the week, and most other national outfits were more concerned with getting clicks than getting the story straight. It was ugly and embarrassing. I write fluff for a living, and even I know you can't just run with whatever some goon tells ya.

But in Boston, on the ground, in print and on the local airwaves, there were people who still remembered how journalism works. There were people who remembered that they have been entrusted with a very important public service that requires diligence and intelligence. People who didn't abandon the need for patience and thoughtfulness, and who know real news can't be replaced by 140-character blurts and click-bait hashtags. And for a person over a thousand miles away — connected to his hometown only by status updates because cell phone lines are flooded, watching the manhunt unfold as my bewildered friends post from Stop & Shop parking lots and bedroom windows as an army of police chase across Cambridge into Watertown — for a person watching from beyond the vacuum of cyberspace, the journalists in Boston were taking what seemed like eons to verify and report anything. And I thank them for it.

The Boston media did a remarkable job, from the pay-wall-dropping folks at the Globe to the folks in the video trucks. The final day of that fucked-up week would have been a perfectly reasonable time to slip up, but it didn't happen. Even the Herald managed not to piss me off (which is proof there's a first time for everything). When the rest of the industry was slipping up, the Boston media were holding fast, maintaining a level of integrity that has been lacking from the vast majority of the profession for a few years now. It was a case of the newsroom being run by newsfolks — not the marketing department, the overpaid consultants or some social-networking rock star. As a journalist (however fluffy) and a human being, I appreciate that.

There is little chance I'll ever again experience the perfect stillness of that early September in Copley Square. (I used a Nokia and didn't even know about text messages! A Nokia! Now I get phantom-notifications!) It was comforting to have journalists skilled enough and smart enough to adapt to this wild, unruly media landscape. When the rest of the world was wigging out, the Boston media kept a cool head, and for that, I'd like to say thank you.

In the decade-plus between 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing, our society has decided to jettison journalism in favor of 24-hour opinion, sub-soundbite reporting and funny cat pictures; decided that if a website has the word “truth” in the title, it can't be making shit up (hint — it is); decided that discourse is not nearly as fun (or profitable) as discord; decided to give up hope that media will ever actually benefit mankind again. (If it ever did.) But now and again, when given the chance, journalism proves that it's more than just filler between diet tips and celebrity profiles, more than just a loss leader but an essential part of the American fabric, an industry worth far more than it's given credit for. Good work, Boston, stay strong. May the rest of the nation follow your personal and professional leads.

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