MH 370 theories: It's not about entertainment

Allen Wastler

Note to Staff

From: Allen

Re: Our Malaysian Airline coverage

People tend to root for an interesting story — the Hollywood version — rather than a boring truth.

We're seeing that to a degree with the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 story. As the mystery grows, more and more theories abound about its disappearance. Some are outlandish (aliens and meteorites) while others are sinister (terrorists and Snowden). And then there are the more straightforward: mechanical failure, fire, weather, etc.

Getty Images

In the journalism business, we should concentrate just as much, indeed even more, on the latter than the former, especially since the flight had 239 souls on board. The explanation of their fate should not be viewed as entertainment, even if tales of plots and intrigue make for a better story.

Nevertheless, the world seems more interested in a good story.

This was evident yesterday when Wired reposted a socially published piece from a seemingly qualified aviation professional offering a fairly simple explanation for the flight's disappearance, electrical fire, that could cover most of the weird events documented to date. The Internet, being the Internet, was quick to pounce, poking holes and hurling invective.

Of course, very few of the folks doing the disparaging of the piece appeared to have actually read it all the way through. Some of the points they raised were already addressed in the original piece. (Though, people not reading through on the Internet is hardly surprising.)

Malaysia flight investigation baffling

But more disturbing was the overriding assumption by many folks that there simply could not be a straightforward answer to the mystery.

Sure this theory, like every other one being offered, may or may not be wholly or partially true and should be critically examined. But you can't go into the process thinking it's wrong because it's simple … or sinister … or just doesn't make as good a story.

And I worry, sometimes, that we in the media, like the medium through which we do so much researching and reporting, can be swept up into this kind of thinking.

Flight 370 is a tragic event with serious ramifications on many people's lives. We should focus on the actual story, not what makes a good tale.

Allen Wastler is managing editor of CNBC Digital. Follow him on Twitter @AWastler. You can catch his commentary here and on CNBC Radio. And check out his fiction.

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