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Is tragedy becoming the new beat?

It’s difficult to accept, but we live in an era of senseless violence. Horrific events such as the Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech massacres, the Aurora movie theatre shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing and, most recently, the mass shooting that killed 6 and injured even more in Isla Vista, Calif., are begging to bring to the forefront arguments involving gun control, mental illness and a slew of other issues.

Journalists have always covered wars and mass deaths, but as of late, tragedy is being redefined. Tragedies have become less about where the violence occurred and in what context and more about what we can do—as progressive people—to stop this violence from happening. Massacres are becoming far too commonplace.

When is enough, enough?

Unfortunately, there are many who believe that these mass killings are indirect works of the media. People like this Thought Catalog blogger believe killers strive for attention and journalists give them the stage upon which to become a star. This is a cry from sects of the American public for journalists to remember their ethical standards in a time of tragedy. Journalists should continue to report for the good of the public, rather than the exploitation of individuals or groups.

Wrongful glorification

The media has often been criticized for glorifying killers (e.g. Jahar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone looking like a saucy rockstar). Where is the line drawn between providing the facts, and positioning the killer as a household name and internationally recognizable image?

Following the Isla Vista massacre, a Twitter user created the hashtag #YesAllWomen. It was born out of the necessity to fight back against the misogynist killer. The thread of tweets is a pretty powerful form of participatory journalism.

In this Atlantic brief about #YesAllWomen and the Isla Vista shooting, Conor Friedersdorf takes a stand: The perpetrator’s name and the contents of his rant are public if you’re interested. I won’t link or excerpt them here in hopes that my lonely approach is one day the norm—that would-be murderers will no longer expect a killing spree to help their manifesto go viral.”  Is this what journalists should be doing—strip the killer of his celebrity status and stick to the principal issues? One can only hope. 

A journalist’s role

Journalists rightfully share stories of victims and families during these tragedies offering testaments of suffering to the public. Reporters try to understand the pain these people endure to share their stories with the nation. They’re sacrificing their own emotional and mental health to discourage future violent behavior. They’re offering glimpses into the human condition.

But, at what point do journalists become advocates? Is it ethical for journalists to take a stand when reporting on horrific events like these? To end violence, journalists need to facilitate action against it. They need to inform the public of the issues, gather information and investigate trends and patterns. 

This NY Times article and this Atlantic article dealing with the Isla Vista shooting are strong beginnings in the fight against senseless violence. This is the kind of journalism we should paying attention to as we band together to create a future free from tragedy of this caliber. 

As journalists, we will still struggle mightily to find the right words to ask the questions and to tell the stories at times like these. But, if we care deeply about the people and the issues we are covering, and if we care deeply about the quality of what we do, our work can honor our duty to society. –Bob Steele, Poynter

It’s no longer our duty, as journalists, to simply report the facts here. We must become educators and advocates for society.



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