GLOBAL JOURNALIST: Bin Laden's death leads to hectic media coverage

Friday, May 13, 2011 | 1:51 p.m. CDT

Newsrooms were bustling the night of Sunday, May 1. With reports of Osama bin Laden's death trickling through cyberspace, news outlets scrambled to tell their version of the developing story.

The breadth of coverage was diverse. When outlets posted the initial news of the al-Qaida leader's death, subsequent stories delved deeper. Some provided a detailed history of bin Laden's life or assessed how the event would affect the relations between the U.S. and Pakistan. More reports surfaced about how bin Laden could hide in plain sight. Some pieces even focused on the high-tech downed military helicopter at the site of the raid. Others assessed how the event would affect Pakistan's relations with China.

The multi-faceted story was nebulous. At one time, there were more questions than answers.

As the story's twists and turns unfolded, some news sites cautioned readers that details were still uncertain, especially as reports from online leads were later confirmed, denied or amended by expert sources. Updating reports became crucial, but as news broke, publishing completely accurate information became a delicate task. Some news organizations used blogs for the developing story, along with caveats of uncertain facts.

Most news organizations were forced to rely on a single source for their information: the U.S. government. In a press conference, John Brennan, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor, said bin Laden’s house was a mansion and he used his wife as a shield. Neither of these statements was true, among others. These false reports also permeated the scantly edited social media and blog environments, making concrete facts difficult to verify.

With those concerns, how did the media cover bin Laden's death and unearth untold stories?

Watch Global Journalist’s How the Media Covered the Death of Osama bin Laden.

Highlights from this week's guests:

Boston: Amelia Newcomb, International News Editor, The Christian Science Monitor

"The atmosphere was electric over the phone lines. I was woken up by a call from our India-based staffer, who covers Afghanistan and Pakistan, telling me the news. So he immediately got to work on the story, relaying the news events to us. At the same time, a California-based news writer got going on the story that served to remind Americans how Osama bin Laden has affected the States over the past decade."

Columbia, South Carolina: David Axe, Reporter,'s Danger Room blog

"We had to tease from our numerous leads online what kinds of technology were possibly being used in the raid and then get credible experts on the phone as fast as possible to explain, based on what we thought we knew, what kind of technology was being used in the raid. The day after the raid, the photos depicting the wreckage of this special helicopter appeared, which added massive fuel to this fire of speculation regarding military technology. Those photos were our best evidence of something concrete."

Peshawar, Pakistan: Malik Arshad Aziz, News Editor, Daily Aaj

"When we are talking about the free media, we heard the news of bin Laden's death from the White House. There was no journalist of ours in that area who covered that story. The similar case with the drone attacks when we see a drone hit an area, we get the news from the American media … Additionally, there are protests going on in Pakistan. People are very angry. This will certainly affect U.S.-Pakistan relations."

New York City: Sarah Kate Kramer, Reporter for It's A Free Country, WNYC's politics website

"All of our information was coming from government sources. There were no journalists of ours at the scene. We received some highly guarded information. It wasn't clear what the motivation was for those who were giving us these reports. Did the government just really not have the right information? We really don't know. Clearly, it was a very quickly developing story … You can have eight men but 10 different stories of what happened."

Join the discussion: Have your say on our Facebook page. Follow us on Twitter for updates during and after the show. Watch and listen to all shows, stories and more on the Global Journalist website.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.