According to CNN, while the United States has 5 percent of the population of the world, it represents 31 percent of the world's mass shootings. While most of the world's mass shootings happen at a location with military affiliation, in the United States they happen at public gathering places, ie. schools, concerts, work places and theaters.
There's very obviously something different about mass shootings in the United States. I believe that a large part of why we have so many mass shootings and why there seems more every year is the way we, as the media, are covering them. Buzzwords like "lone wolf" are used for white men while race and religion are often forefront with shooters of colors and religions outside Christianity.
While bias seems to leak out in coverage of tragedies such as these, something else is at play. Put simply, everyone is reporting on it and everyone can't stop reading about it. With better, more cautious journalism we can get the facts without raising any criminals into infamy.
Remember who the real story is about
When we see articles discussing arsonists or bank robbers, rarely would you see half the piece dedicated to uncovering the hidden motives and possible triggers for them. So why do we see article after article attempting to delve into the minds of the cowards who chose to end the lives of others? The shooting is news and it deserves attention but shift the attention to the victims. It's them that readers should be thinking about at night and it's their photos that should lead the story.
I think it would be beneficial for editors to not even include the photo of the perpetrator. They killed for the infamy, the real justice would be to take that away from them.
Avoid sensationalizing the numbers
This is hard because it's easy to discuss the "worst mass murders" of all times if a crime qualifies. In the most recent mass shooting, NBC News covered the incident with the headline "Las Vegas Shooting is Deadliest in Modern History." Now the perpetrator of that shooting is immortalized as the "worst" mass shooter, a claim to fame that is dangerous and may inspire future criminals to try to claim more victims to gain that title. It's sick and twisted that journalists have to consider this but phrases like "worst shooter", "most senseless killing" or "deranged killer" just fuel the fire of copycats.
|Image shows concert-goers fleeing during recent Las Vegas shooting (Quartz)|
Let local journalists take the lead
It's easy to get wrapped up in the breaking news potential if you're from a large network trying to get more information quicker than your competitors. Remember that once the fire dies down of this story, it's the local journalists who will live next to these victim's families and their town that will be forever stained by the crime. It's also going to be local journalists who have the community's trust. If you're a local journalist make sure you are worthy and respect that trust by reporting fairly and not sensationalizing. If you're a national journalist, follow the lead of the local journalists and know when to step back.
In the end, there's no easy way to report on a mass shooting and no clear evidence that doing so better will stop future copycats. But as ethical journalists, we owe it to ourselves and our readers to try our best, cover crimes better than we did the time before and continue to ask ourselves the hard ethical questions.