Lessons Learned By Media Coverage of Boston Marathon Bombing

They say the first casualty in the heat of a moment is truth. The recent media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing offers invaluable material and lessons for any business executive to apply in any industry to validate that saying.

Clearly, all media outlets extended the best of their resources to provide detailed and insightful real-time coverage since mid-afternoon Monday April 15th. By combining superior technology and good old-fashioned hard work, all media outlets were on top of each segment of the fast-emerging story. There's little doubt competing media companies have been motivated to out-report one another. As a result of these and other factors, the post-blast reporting was riddled with inaccuracies. The point is not to criticize anybody in the media for glaring mistakes, but to use this fresh, topical and highly visible circumstance to better guide business executives in their field.

Technology certainly liberalizes information flow, allowing for real-time communication on even the fastest moving events. Just as we saw CNN and other leading media companies run with bad information, Corporate America continues to spend more time chasing down poorly thought-out and uncredentialed email messages than makes sense. Just as breaking news sensationalism attracts viewers, listeners and readers, email is too often used in the course of normal business affairs to settle scores or call attention to oneself. There are rarely ever serious consequences for over-the-top inaccurate emails, serving as an invitation to even more inappropriate time and culture killing uses.

Reporters getting the big scoop are as recognized and rewarded as corporate sales people are for closing the big deal. I have found in business, when individual performance is more valued than superb execution the unintended consequences are most often (a) a breakdown of meaningful teamwork, supported by (b) little to no checks and balances. Making a deadline or reaching the goal fastest becomes more important than doing it right. Executives that do not treat the symptoms of personal gain at the expense of consistently great execution will pave the way for unwelcome days of reckoning whether they run the banks too big to fail that were sabotaged by diminished credit & risk oversight or manufacturers that have to recall product.

Without intense competition capitalism stalls. Whether it is media outlets rushing to be first with a story or Tiger Woods' suffering a 2-stroke penalty at the Masters, there is no short supply of evidence showing competition without rules and honor is minimally, self-destructive. I still meet too many executives instructing staff "I don't care how you do it, just make the numbers, and I don't even want to know how you did it". This not so-subtle endorsement putting aside one's moral compass to win ultimately wrecks companies while injuring entire industries in the process.

Many will undoubtedly take to criticizing the media for its many Boston Marathon and aftermath mistakes. There is no real benefit to this without applying what could have been done better, what was learned, to continuous improvement. On this score, the media's handling of the Marathon tragedy is extremely useful.