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Archive for the ‘Identifying mass killers’ Category

SPJ postWe can’t have a reasonable debate about media coverage of mass killers if people fail to understand the opposing arguments.

Andrew Seaman’s post this week for the SPC Ethics Committee Blog misstates the arguments in favor of not naming or publishing photographs of mass killers.

The headline, “Ignoring a Problem Doesn’t Make It Go Away,” falsely implies that refusing to give mass killers the attention they seek is “ignoring” the problems of gun violence, mental illness or whatever problems each mass shooting illustrates.

That is as absurd as saying that withholding names of rape survivors from stories about sexual assault is tantamount to ignoring the problem of rape. We can cover rape without naming victims. We can cover national security without naming sources whose jobs or lives might be in jeopardy. And we can cover mass shootings without naming people whose actions and words leave no doubt that they are seeking attention.

The “censored” illustration with the graphic is a similarly inaccurate reflection of the argument not to name mass shooters. I have not suggested, and I don’t know anyone who has, that the government not allow publication of the names or photographs of mass shooters. That’s what censorship is, and I would fight such a measure as aggressively as anyone. To repeat my earlier analogy, news organizations are not censoring the names of rape victims or unnamed sources. Those organizations are making sound ethical and news judgments. A more appropriate illustration would have been a graphic depiction of the word judgment. (In fairness, I don’t know whether Seaman made or suggested the graphic, but the headline certainly reflects his post, which did refer to “ignoring” a problem.) (more…)

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Don’t take my word that mass killers seek media attention through violence. Take the word of the mass killer who attacked this week in Roseburg, Ore.:

Seems the more people you kill, the more your’re in the limelight.

That’s what this week’s killer du jour wrote about the August killer du jour in Virginia, who sought the limelight by doing his killing on live television and boasting about it on social media.

I don’t think that media cause mass killings any more than guns cause mass killings or violent entertainment causes mass killings or mental illness causes mass killings. Our nation’s violence sprees have complex causes and require complex, multiple solutions that will involve legislation, regulation, voluntary action and effective enforcement.

I don’t blog about all of the segments of society that contribute to the causes and might contributed to solutions. But I do blog about journalism, and it’s undeniable that the limelight that journalism provides is an incentive that appeals to mass killers. (more…)

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Today’s live-TV killing in Virginia clearly was planned to bring as much attention to the killer as possible.

When media fall for this, they are telling other sick, twisted or just evil potential killers that they, too, can get lots of attention by using their guns in ways that the media find sensationalist.

I made my initial arguments on this case in the posts linked below and won’t belabor those arguments here. But some thoughts about how my ethical principles about refusing to provide the attention they seek might apply here:

  • Someone who attacks during a live telecast is seeking attention. Obviously you need to report the attack, but I would not broadcast the attack or make it available online.
  • While a killer is at large, identification is important news. So as soon as the killer’s identity was known, if he were still at large, I would publish name, photograph and any other information that would help the public report his location, apprehend him or seek safety if they saw him. Public safety overrides my belief that we should not give the killer attention.
  • Once the killer was dead, I would stop publishing his name or photograph.
  • I see no ethical justification for publishing videos shot by the killer. That is the ultimate in attention-seeking behavior.
  • You can report the mental health issues, gun access issues and other issues that a story presents without publicizing or profiling the killer.
  • My focus would be on the people who were killed or injured. They warrant media attention, not the person who was seeking it.

Previous posts on attention-seeking killers

News orgs should deny mass killers the attention they crave

Media feed mass killers’ desire for infamy and attention

Kudos to Charleston Post and Courier for putting mass killer’s name and photo inside newspaper

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Initially, I was inclined not to renew my call here for the media not to give mass killers the attention they crave. I don’t feel a need to repeat it every time a hateful person seeks attention with a gun.

But Dan Kennedy and Matt DeRienzo gave me a nudge after the racist terrorist attack in Charleston:

The link Matt shared was one of three times I have posted here about my views that media should stop giving attention to mass killers. I posted also after the mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 and last year near the University of California at Santa Barbara.

I will just summarize here the points I’ve made in the other posts, then I’ll discuss some particular aspects of the Charleston slaughter that underscore my point, but make it tougher to follow my advice.

Who is one of the essential 5 W’s of journalism, the questions we should answer in every story. I don’t lightly suggest that we should not name the suspects in mass killings. But we decide not to use newsworthy names in many other cases:

(more…)

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Margaret Sullivan, photo linked from Twitter avatar

The mass killings in California last week underscore a point I made in 2012: News media should reconsider giving mass murderers the attention they clearly crave.

I didn’t blog about this immediately after the May 23 killings because I was focused on other matters and I haven’t repeated this point every time a murderer goes on a rampage. But I was immediately struck with how clearly this case was a successful attempt by the killer to go out in a blaze of infamy. His hateful videos and his 141-page diatribe (I think calling it a “manifesto” perhaps overdignifies it) make it clear that attention was as much a motive of this hate crime as was misogyny.

I’m discussing this case a week late because Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of the New York Times, addressed the issue of whether the Times should have published the diatribe and video.

Sullivan’s a friend and the best public editor the Times has had. I’m glad she raised the issue of whether the Times should have published these items and the name of the killer. But I disagree with her conclusion that the Times’ decisions were the right ones.

“In general, I don’t believe in holding back germane information from the public,” she wrote. (more…)

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What if we denied mass killers the attention they crave?

I’ve covered too many mass murders in my career, and I wasn’t even involved in yesterday’s coverage. I want it to stop. Like lots of people, I felt helpless and frustrated at our inability as a nation to prevent this mass-killing madness that strikes more often in this nation than anywhere and that this year has struck again and again.

I don’t feel that I have any great insight on the gun-control debate that inevitably swirls around these incidents. But I always agonize about journalism’s role in these stories. Clearly this is attention-seeking behavior, and we give these killers what they want. (more…)

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