From the Boston Globe across the Charles River, to the Los Angeles Times across the country, to NetEase news in China, media outlets across the globe rushed to cover Monday’s unconfirmed rumors of explosives in four buildings on Harvard’s campus. But while Harvard news stories often generate buzz, the extent of the media coverage far surpassed that of other, seemingly comparable events, including a bomb threat at the Holyoke Center this past March.
On Monday, less than an hour after Harvard had sent an emergency alert to community members, hundreds of tweets about the threat had been published on Twitter, according to the Twitter analytics service Topsy. Ten hours later, the count had climbed to more than 7,200 tweets, according to the site.
The interest in the threats was not limited to Twitter. The scare was featured temporarily as the top story on CNN, and the national news network featured a live feed on its website filmed from a helicopter hovering above the campus, as the investigation into the alleged explosives proceeded. Dozens of national media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and Fox News also picked up the story.
However, the coverage of Monday’s events contrasts sharply with that of March’s Holyoke Center bomb threat, which received much virtually no media attention.
Heidi J. Tworek, a history lecturer who focuses on the international history of modern news, attributed that scale of the media coverage of Monday’s bomb scare to the legacy of the Boston Marathon bombings.
“There are ways in which a bomb scare hits very close to home so soon after the Boston Marathon bombings,” she said. “During the Boston Marathon bombings, there was a brief moment when there were concerns at Harvard as well, so Harvard had already been enveloped into bomb scares at the time.”
Reports that President Obama had been informed of the reports of explosives and that the federal government had become involved in the investigation made it almost inevitable that the bomb threats would become a major news story, she said.
Unlike the Boston Marathon bombings, in which rumor underlay much of the media coverage, official statements by the University and its officials seemed to drive the media’s portrayal of what transpired.
While student speculation regarding the events could have been the focus of the media’s content, Tworek said, student insight was instead employed only to add color to articles and reports.
“While I haven’t read all of the coverage, it does seem to me like most of the media outlets did try to exercise caution, not to overspeculate, and also to rely upon citations from emails sent out by Harvard affiliates and the police,” she said.
Tworek urged news outlets to continue to adhere to the facts as authorities continue to investigate the source of the threats.
“It is, of course, not clear exactly how the bomb threat emerged,” she said, “It would be wise to refrain from speculation until we have further information.”
—Staff Writer Alexander H. Patel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org