In hearing about all the tragedy surrounding the recent Connecticut incident I found myself having a hard time wanting to watch or read up on all the news reports. It was such a horrible thing, and I just felt terrible inside thinking about all the loss many people have suffered and will continue to suffer. After reading Austen's blog post (see below), I believe that he hit the nail on the head. My dad read it and said,
"That was very well written and spot on."
So read this. Or don't.
But......you probably should.
I’ve had a rather unique opportunity over the past few months; as Garrett and I have been building and testing GrassWire, we haven’t been required to operate according to traditional journalistic rules and ethics. We are breaking ground and exposing news in a new way (or at least we hope to be), and as such, the journalism world is our playground.
And as I watch and read the coverage of the shootings in Colorado and Connecticut, I have to say: I think we’re doing it all wrong.
The Streaker Rule
It’s standard in sporting events that should an unauthorized individual enter the field of play, cameras should look away. Commonly called “the streaker rule,” this rule applies to those that are clothed as well. The purpose of doing so is to not draw attention to the individual at fault. Naturally, if every streaker had a few minutes of airtime on natural TV, the number of people streaking would increase.
Of course we are curious. Everyone wants to know what is happening, whether they think that streaking is funny or they see it as a serious distraction. But the cameras are responsible enough to divert their attention so as to not provoke more incidents.
Why, then, when an armed individual enters a school and massacres children, do we profile the suspect as intensely as we can? With this most recent example, multiple reputable news sources even found the Facebook profile of the wrong person, instantly plastering it all over the news and social media channels. Later, full hour-long episodes will be dedicated to the shooter, just as they have in the past.
For Columbine, it took a few people that were absolutely diabolical. Now all it takes is someone willing to sacrifice their lives and the lives of others for a little notoriety. That’s dangerous.
We are all morbidly fascinated. What would drive a person to enter a school full of children and begin murdering them is beyond our comprehension and boggles our minds a little bit. But should there not be a “streaker rule” for a tragedy like this? Wouldn’t it be better for all of us, in the long run, to turn the proverbial cameras away?
Sandy Hill Coverage
A lot of unethical things were done during this coverage for the sake of ratings and page views: 6-year-old children were harassed by reporters immediately following the shooting, essentially trying to get them to break down for the rest of the world to see. Somehow a reporter got the phone number of a woman who lost both a child and a grandchild in the shooting, and remarked that when they called to question her she became “silent” and “despondent.” Of course she was!
You would never approach a family member at a funeral and interrogate them as to how they’re feeling. Of course we want to sympathize. We want to understand a tiny portion of what it must feel like to be in the shoes of those people. But doing so needn’t require us to harrow up the most painful of memories from those that badly need to grieve.
There are times when those involved want to tell their story; for some this comes quicker than for others. Give them the option to come forward, give them an outlet through which they can share their thoughts and feelings with us, but don’t prod them.
Those in the journalism industry understand that they will often be asked to make a decision between ethics and profit. The line between tabloid and respected publication seems to be wearing thin. But especially in cases like these, in which so much is at stake, we need to take the high road. As the national media and journalistic institutions of this country, we can do better.