Friday, July 20, 2012

Colorado shootings: Media already pouring gasoline on the fire

Peace journalism doesn’t just address issues of peace and war. Instead, PJ should be used as a way to evaluate and moderate our coverage of any conflict or violent incident, such as the shootings early this morning in Colorado. As media coverage of this event unfolds, as advocates of peace journalism, let us scrutinize the coverage for:

1. Sensational images: Unedited footage? Needlessly bloody scenes? Images taken out of context?

2. Sensational reporting: Inflammatory language (massacre, slaughter, blood bath) used? Victimizing language (defenseless, pathetic, helpless) used?

3. Summary judgment: Is the arrested suspect tried, convicted, and executed by the press?

4. Political grandstanding: Do media allow politicians to use their media platforms to score political points using this incident?

5. Historical hysteria: Do media dredge up past incidents (particularly Columbine, since it was also in Colorado) to dramatize and sensationalize their coverage of the theater shooting?

Sadly, media reports about the shooting this morning illustrate that the advice I'm giving above amounts to not much more than wishful thinking. This is a Tweet I just saw from CBS news. @CBSNews Colorado #TheaterShooting eyewitness: "I see people walking out with blood on them" WATCH: http://cbsn/.... No apparent shyness about highlighting the blood from CBS. A second Tweet from NBC is no better. NBC News @NBCNews VIDEO: Alleged Colorado #theatershooting suspect's mom: "You have the right person". No need for a trial--he's already been convicted by the media.

Finally, a report by ABC news this morning wastes no time cheapening this tragedy by moving it into the political arena. (See ).

The point is this: We as media must cover this shooting. The question is, how? Do we cover it in such a way that our reports make a bad situation even worse? Does our coverage rub salt in the wounds of already grieving families and communities? I believe that media, while telling the story, must consider the consequences of its reporting, and strive to not exacerbate this truly tragic situation.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steve, Gary Bachman here.

    It occurs to me that your items 2,3 & 4 can easily become blended. And may be perpetrated with no mal-intent. People get caught up in the drama and emotion, and many want to do something (anything!) to help. But they don't really take the time to think and process what might be best. It seems to me that this must be one of the greatest challenges in educating PROFESSIONALLY MINDED journalists. And then the competitive nature of our commercial news media seemingly compels their journalists to react immediately and spontaneously: " reported here first."

    The sensational language can easily be a manifestation of sincere (severe?) reactive emotion. What is it like to describe something that you've never ever imagined having to describe? "Oh my GOD! It's awfull Steve! Just awful!" (echos of another reporter famously crying out, "Oh the humanity!"

    This is paired with our perhaps natural desire (or need) to categorize, label, identify, box, or secure any source of threat. This labeling is really at he foundation of our own desire for self security. My sense is that this is a normal human reaction that perhaps gets in the way of factually documenting or reporting a story.
    So how do you train that out of someone? (Actually the military focuses it's training on replacing such "natural" or spontaneous -civilian-reactions, with ones that are responsive and purposeful.) I was amazed wathing the documentery "Restrepo" about a platoon of soldiers on a remote outpost in Afghanistan. What restraint the jounalist Tim Heaterhington demonstrated through that process as he continued to roll film rather that picking up a rifle to fight back or bandages to tend to the wounded.

    I would broaden the characterization "political grandstanding" to just, "grandstanding." Already this mornings airwaves have been full of various experts:( psychologists,profilers, retired cops, counter-terrorism specialists: experts all) expounding upon the incident from thousands of miles away with nothing more than their credentials, bibliographs, resumes, fantasies and ambitions.

    When I arrived in NY City on September 13th 2001, assigned to work at the WTC Complex I had to wait several hours as my credentials were established and incident specific ID papers and authorizations were printed: in that time I spent some time listening to a car radio and then watching local TV back in my room: and what I heard was a constant flow of psychological babble about the thousands who would soon be burdened with PTSD if they haven't already been. So I was struck by the paradoxical atmoshpere of the people on the street: total strangers making eye contact, smiling, holding doors open for one another, and inquiring "How ya doing?"

    In mid November, back at work here in KC, I was suddenly struck by the number of parents approaching me with concerns about suddenly fearfull and clingy children. Particularly in the morning as mom or dad was preparing to go to work. What was this? Turns out that in the preceeding week, the networks had begun running stories in their new magazines about the individuals who had perished on 9/11. "Daddy went to work just like any day but he never came home."

    At the same time other kids were asking of the seemingly dozens of planes being flown into tall buildings: actually the same 2 planes from a dozen angle as every week a new video seemed to emerge,"Why can't they stop all those planes from crashing into those buildings."

    And of course the answer was in the parents hand, with a button labled "OFF."