With the increase of online reporting comes the unfortunate reality of newspapers acting quickly in order to have the most read story, oftentimes leading to insensitive coverage.
However, this does not mean that we should not cover these tragedies at all. A greater danger and offense is posed if this occurs. Not to cover a school shooting is to pretend as though everything is okay, not to honor and remember those whose lives were lost, to not pay tribute to these lost futures.
Insensitive reporting is the reason the infamous (albeit, unflattering) catchphrase “if it bleeds, it leads” was coined. Clearly, mass media attention needs to come in a positive form: strictly informing the public and not intruding on the families’ mourning. Even so, it is impossible to prevent mass media attention. But through responsible and sensitive reporting, media attention can actually promote awareness of gun control and mental health care issues. While this does not ensure that anything can change, it increases the possibility. To give people knowledge is to give them power—the power to fight for greater change, to ensure that there will be no more school shootings.
Too much media focus on the tragedies like school shootings can ultimately be detrimental. The intrusiveness of cameras and microphones interrupts time that should be given to victims’ families to grieve. Even worse, mass media coverage adds onto the mindset that extremity elicits attention, which can influence other future acts of violence.
According to CNN, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University Katherine Newman states, “The shooting is the last act in a long drama: a search for acceptance and recognition. […] Suddenly, [the shooter] is getting the attention he has been craving.” While media coverage is not the primary reason that shootings happen, it can contribute to the motive in a dangerous way.
Moreover, decades of media coverage have failed to result in any kind of concrete legislation for either gun control or mental health care. If the goal of any medium is to create a positive outcome or at least to minimize the feedback loop of violence, it needs to drastically change its approach.