The media wrestles with the horror, too

After the horror at the high school in Parkland, Fla., and other schools around America, we in the media are often asked to inform the public about what preparations are in place to avert such incidents at our local schools.

We understand the concern that parents, students and community members have, and we take seriously our responsibility to report on such matters to the community. While we do know local law enforcement and emergency responders have plans in place and we know that students have had to be taught what they should do if confronted with an armed aggressor, what we won't do is publish the details; we believe it's important to keep such things out of the public eye to prevent someone from using it against our schools.

We are sure that any parent who has concerns can speak to school administrators without us having to splash the details across the front page.

Rebecca Holcombe, the secretary of the Vermont Department of Education, shares our concerns, both about security and how the media covers these tragedies. In an email to the media, she urged that reporters and editors instead inform the public about how to recognize the signs before these tragedies happen.

Frequently, perpetrators signal their intention to do harm. Students and the public need to recognize these signals — or red flags — and know that they must report them, and to whom they can report them. And, appropriate authorities need to follow up on these reports. Many of the perpetrators have researched previous shooting incidents, and model their "script" on those incidents, including on journals and details shared through the media. There is also growing evidence that heavy coverage of mass killings at schools is associated with an elevated risk of subsequent attacks — that people who are at risk of committing violence may be motivated to act by exposure to violence through media.

We should be concerned that, as sociologist Zeynap Tufekci notes, the "the tornado of media coverage that swirls around each such mass killing, and the acute interest in the identity and characteristics of the shooter — as well as the detailed and sensationalist reporting of the killer's steps just before and during the shootings — may be creating a vicious cycle of copycat effects .... "

Rebekah Jorgensen, writing for The Federalist, believes the news media should stop "weaponizing mass shootings for clicks," which might help to prevent these types of incidents.

"Stop letting these mass tragedies dominate the news cycle for entire weeks," she writes. "Stop leveraging grief to try and force Congress's collective hand. Stop bickering, virtue-signaling, and trying to figure out conspiracy theories and details."

Jorgensen has a point, but as long as people voraciously turn on news channels, click on websites and read printed stories, many in the media will feel compelled to feed that hunger.

While the media would be remiss in not reporting on these incidents at all, it would behoove all of us in the media to think about how we cover mass shootings and consider how our coverage might contribute to both future attacks and the desensitization of the public to these horrors. We at the Banner will continue to discuss how we present these horrors to our readership, but it is also incumbent upon our readers to let us know how they would like us report them. They can do so by sending thoughtful comments to

We also urge our readers who feel besieged by these horrors to turn off the screaming and arguing of the talking heads on their televisions and pursue the written word wherever they might find it. Don't let the pundits fill your heads with their voices. Instead, digest what you can emotionally and psychically and put it down while you think about it. Then, when you feel ready, you can read some more or you can decide whether it's the right time for you to get involved, somehow.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

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