"Can you find me a problem that gets any better by not talking about it?" Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, asked, in regards to the national debate between privacy and transparency in news media coverage. Tompkin’s comment specifically refers to the Oregon sheriff's decision to withhold the name of the gunman in the Umpqua Community College shooting: "I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act," Hanlin said, implying that he hoped the media wouldn't either.
But just because journalists must respect the grieving family of a victim, doesn't mean that they should outright neglect to report truth in fear of a few twisted members of society finding the heinous acts of a gunman inspirational.
In his handling of the Oregon shooting, Sheriff Hannifin attempted to deprive the public of important journalistic fact, under the grounds of supposedly depriving a gunman of his desire for notoriety. Interestingly enough, this same sheriff has a history of resisting the very gun-control laws that might have prevented this tragedy (The Washington Post reported that Harper-Mercer had bought most of his guns himself: all sold legally to an adolescent with a history of severe mental illness… Huff Post discovered a letter that Sheriff Hanlin had penned to Joe Biden, two years ago, warning that he would not enforce any legislation passed down from the federal government to tighten restriction on firearms!)
The media must provide the shooter’s name to adhere to another SPJ Code of Ethics, as well as fulfilling the main purpose of journalism: to “seek truth and report it!”
In his opinion piece, It Doesn’t Matter ‘What He Wanted.’ Chris Harper Mercer Murdered 9 People and We Need to Name Him, Justin Peters points out that“asking journalists to refrain from reporting the news is something that is ultimately much worse for society than giving the shooter ‘what he wanted.’’