Archive for December, 2012

I once again feel unfortunate that I am writing a blog entry in the aftermath of another tragedy in America involving gun violence.  First the tragedy in Aurora, and now the massacre in Newtown, CT.  The number of casualties reported by broadcast news stations reminded me of the horrors I witnessed during coverage of the VA Tech and the Columbine shootings.   What upsets me more than the thought that 26 people, including young children, were killed and that their families must now deal with enormous grief is that once again, the mainstream news media has turned this event into a platform for chaos, rumor, political debate, and unnecessary anxiety and fear.  The hasty attempts to identify the shooter resulted in multiple cases of mistaken identity, which included claims of a student’s parent, a student at the school, and the shooter’s brother all being identified at certain points as being the shooter.  Additionally, news media quick to cover the events made their way to the site of the shooting, interviewing everyone they could who was in the area.  They didn’t even restrict themselves from interviewing the young children who were closest to the scene.  But it didn’t stop with the mainstream media.  Social media, which is becoming the new citizen journalist press, has also become a venue for a flow of inaccurate details and even hoaxes related to the event (see Morgan Freeman’s response).  In the four days following the CT tragedy, the coverage has shifted to a spectrum covering everything from a ghostly image of the shooter to political argument involving gun control, mental health, and Obama’s presidency.  My Facebook newsfeed is now filled with friends who are posting their own opinions (or being lazy and reposting memes from others) on what our society is coming to.  Why is this happening?

What I see is a severe lack of responsibility and ethical standards that is currently plaguing journalism at both the professional and citizen levels.  Inaccurate details are leading people to jump to conclusions too quickly, causing unnecessary grief and distress before law enforcement can even begin investigating.  Interviewing children in the wake of a tragedy and pressuring them to recalling the details of a traumatic event on national television has more severe mental effects than what might appear at first.  Children of that age have no knowledge of their rights to exercise or choose not to exercise their freedom of speech, especially involving specific details of a crime scene.  Of course we can say whatever we want on social media, but does that mean that we should say whatever we want?  Should Facebook and Twitter become a free-for-all venue to post anything, whether it’s confirmed to be true or not?  And what about coverage of the facts versus opinions?  If there aren’t facts being reported every minute of the day, the content of most mainstream news stations leans towards opinions from “experts,” which 9 times out of 10 become heated and uncomfortable arguments that go nowhere.  And through the midst of all the opinions and political memes that flood all media platforms, we lose sight of the original event – the tragedy and the victims involved.

This is a must-needed time for professional journalists to re-evaluate the influence and the responsibility they have over all communities, both small and large.  As someone who has worked with alternative/citizen journalists, university journalists, and professional journalists, I understand how important ethical conduct is in journalism.  It is the duty of the journalist not only to truthfully inform the public, but to also know their specific role and leave the opinions and debates for a different time and place.  It is also a duty to understand your audience and the people involved in the events, knowing that being pressured to speak might have disastrous consequences.  And in incidents of disaster, know that the facts are most important – report what you know, find out what you don’t know, and disconfirm other sources that report inaccurate information.  I can go on and on with this list of ideas, and while I don’t have specific solutions for them all, I think the important first step is identifying the issues and welcoming discussion.

And for those who are interested in the debate towards resolving gun violence, check out this site: Demand a Plan