Rethinking the media’s portrayal of school shootings

On April 20 1999, the Columbine school shooting sent waves of disbelief and anguish, forever changing the United States. Such a tragedy was unheard of, unthinkable. It simply did not seem possible for a school, of all places, to be the scene of such horror.

Over a decade later, school shootings are still every bit as terrible but are no longer seen as impossible. More recent tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting have shown that even being a child cannot shield one from such senseless violence. Perhaps an even worse truth that Americans must come to terms with is that such tragedies are growing in number.

According to a recent CNN article, there have been a confirmed 15 school shootings since Sandy Hook — incidents where an individual opened fire inside or close to a school. Depending on who you ask, there are a multitude of causes that have contributed to the increased frequency of these incidents. Some would point to gun control, others to a lack of awareness regarding mental health.

However, while these reasons may point to the root of school shootings, none of them explain the recent spike in these types of tragedies within the last few years. That culprit could very well be the media.

Nearly every time a school shooting occurs, an exposé is done of the shooter, detailing nearly every aspect of their lives. They are, in many ways, giving these shooters exactly what they sought when they committed these crimes.

Most school shooters are troubled youth, teens that above all else are seeking attention. Such troubled youth watching news programs depicting school shooters can easily be inspired to do something similar.

The story of Elliot Rodger is a very recent example of this. Following his shocking crime and suicide, the news constantly showed his YouTube videos in which he described his hateful thoughts. Showing these videos on national television is likely exactly the type of reaction he wanted when he shot and killed six people.

Less than a month later, shootings occurred at Reynolds High School in Oregon and Seattle Pacific University in Washington. Were these shooters inspired by the attention Rodger received? It is very possible. Just like Rodger was likely inspired by the shooters before him.

To give these very troubled youths such publicity only encourages copycats. To at least attempt to slow down these tragedies, the way media reports these incidents must change. The focus of the story needs to be solely about the victims and their families. Instead of flashing the face of the shooter on every news channel, images of communities coming together and supporting each other should be displayed. To deprive these shooters of the attention they crave could go a long way to preventing these tragedies.

In time, more will need to be done to aggressively stop these shootings. Whether that is increased gun control or more mental health awareness, something needs to change soon. Until then, the media also needs to do its part in stopping these crimes. This means not encouraging copycats to seek out the massive attention that is given to shooters.

Editorial policy is determined by the student editor, and views expressed in editorials are those of the majority of the Vidette’s Opinions Council. Columns that carry bylines are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Vidette or the university.

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