On Sunday night, the world was cap­ti­vated by news cov­erage of Pres­i­dent Obama’s stun­ning announce­ment that Osama bin Laden, mas­ter­mind of the Sept. 11 attacks, had been killed by U.S. spe­cial forces after 10 years of pur­suit. Steven Bur­gard, director of North­eastern University’s School of Jour­nalism, ana­lyzes what direc­tions media ques­tions and reports may lead from here, and the chal­lenges jour­nal­ists face in ensuring speedy but accu­rate reporting in the dig­ital age.

What was your assess­ment of the ini­tial news coverage?

This was a story that broke late on a Sunday night, with the White House press corps being called back around 10 p.m. The story had to be assem­bled quickly, and it was already reaching people by mobile phone all around the country. But actu­ally having Pres­i­dent Obama lend his authen­ticity to this story early made it a little smoother for main­stream orga­ni­za­tions to pre­pare for Monday’s news cycles. From watching the morning news yes­terday, I thought broad­cast media reports were quite good. They had a lot of infor­ma­tion fairly early, and they’d lined up secu­rity experts to ana­lyze what we knew.

Where do you expect the news cov­erage to go from here?

We’re seeing the begin­ning of ques­tions about how bin Laden was holed up in a fairly ordi­nary and elab­o­rate place that was appar­ently built for him close to a mil­i­tary training facility in a suburb in Pak­istan. That’s fairly sig­nif­i­cant, because I think the next round of ques­tions will lead to more coming out about the state of rela­tions between the U.S. and Pak­istani gov­ern­ments, and why this raid took place without the degree of coop­er­a­tion you might have expected with the Pak­istani government.

Another ques­tion is about the future of our mil­i­tary engage­ment in Afghanistan. We know now that bin Laden wasn’t there, and we’re there with a mis­sion to fight al-​​Qaida. So how does this news affect, in the long run, any of our mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in that country? With the accel­er­ated news cycles that we have now, I think those ques­tions will come sooner.

What are the chal­lenges facing jour­nal­ists today as they bal­ance careful reporting with the fast pace of news in the dig­ital medium?

It’s a chal­lenge that’s with us more now than ever before, though it has always been there. The press has always had to deal with rumor and innu­endo. But gen­er­ally, the main­stream press is fairly careful about going with a story before they get sources that are reli­able. There are cases where this is embar­rassing or makes the press appear to be slow, but you have to remember the offi­cial sources are often under the same time pres­sures. They rec­og­nize them­selves that if they want to con­trol the story, they need to quickly get out their ver­sion of events. They don’t have the luxury of waiting, either. That might have been part of what hap­pened Sunday night, a feeling that it would be best for the pres­i­dent him­self to be the source of this infor­ma­tion as soon as possible.