As soon as news of the latest U.S. mass shooting trickled out… The national news media rushed to the scene. This time it was an elementary school in Connecticut. Over 20 shot dead, mostly children. Horrible. Unthinkable.
The media machine kicked into high gear and the images began to flow.
How much detail are we as the public entitled to know? Do we need the news media there at the scene asking traumatized children and parents, “How did that make you feel?” Do we need to see the weeping face of a father who’s just learned his child was killed in the rampage?
No. No we do not.
We’ve come to expect such callousness from the 24/7 cable news media stations. We expect them to “brand” any tragedy with a banner across the tops of our TV or computer screens, whether it’s “SUPER STORM SANDY” or “MALL SHOOTING” or “ELEMENTARY SCHOOL MURDERS.” We expect them to stay at the crime scene until every last child and parent has been asked how they felt about a deranged killer executing students and teachers. We expect them to drown us in these miserable images of sorrow.
Now it appears some of the network news stations – who used to take a “just the facts” approach to reporting the half hour of evening news – have sunk to the same level. Let’s do “special coverage” of the tragedy. Let’s put frightened children and horrified parents on screen for hours and hours. It’s about ratings, not “news you can use.” It’s certainly not about people or compassion.
To all the reporters, anchors, station managers and owners who pursue ratings, not stories, there’s a few things I need to get off my chest….
Dear National News Media,
Why do tragedies like the Connecticut school shooting happen? What can we do to prevent such mass killings from happening again? Can you provide us with news and information to help us solve the problem?
Yes, we need to re-open the national conversation about gun control. Yes, we need to de-stigmatize mental health problems, to recognize people in trouble and get them the help they need. Yes, we need to look at these problems as public safety issues, not political footballs. You could present information and thoughtful commentary, and move intelligent conversation on these issues forward. You could, if you wanted to. But you do not.
That’s because YOU are part of the problem. The dumbing down and desensitizing of our society. You are turning tragedy into a media event. Old school journalism wouldn’t shove a mic in the face of a distraught parent or frightened child and ask them “How do you feel?” But you will. For ratings. Tragedy and loss of human life have become commodities against which to sell advertising. Against which to make a name for yourselves. To be first on the scene to air the most shocking images.
Is this why you went into the “news business” in the first place?
I left journalism when I could no longer ask regular people to jump through hoops for a sensational story. I haven’t been proud of every story I’ve ever written, and the ones I’m least proud of involved not caring how the story impacted the person I interviewed. I knew at that point I had to get out of the business. It was headed down a dirty path I didn’t want to go. I put my press pass in a drawer and moved on to marketing communications. If this sounds holier than thou, it’s not meant to be. It comes from a place of having made mistakes and regretting them. Of having used bad judgment.
Now, true unbiased news reporting seems limited to local media, and those few journalists who remember why they got into the business in the first place. Isn’t that to inform and educate? To report the real news? Not to shock and frighten, and numb people to the horrors of the world?
I have no answers. But many things need to change or these tragedies will continue to happen. The way we are fed and consume “the news” needs to change. Public perception depends on it.
Otherwise, we will all be lulled when the horror of this latest mass murder subsides…until the next one. Then the media circus will start up with it’s “How did that make you feel?” questions and tragedy banners splashed across our TV screens again. Thank you for reading this.