Monday, October 23, 2017

Reporting on Mass Shootings

Earl Hopkins

Courtesy of Fair Observer

The phrase “if it bleeds, it leads” has been synonymous with media organizations since their inception on local and national airwaves. For many, anchors have become extended family, as their depictions of news stories have consumed people’s households and browser history files. However, far too often these stories have been diluted by news organization’s depiction of violent incidents, specifically mass shootings.

Historically, media outlets have painted the men and women responsible for these violent acts differently and, often, inaccurately. Rather than equally vilifying these people for their destructive actions, organizations have unfairly categorized them based on their race and religion. The disparities of ethical reporting have affected viewer’s perception, making it easier for people to generalize and fall for stereotypes attributed to one’s racial or religious background.

According to Cynthia Frisby, a MU journalism professor, the way news organizations frame news stories may form or reinforce stereotypes. In the media, white people are considered misguided loaners, which essentially absolves them from their actions. On the other hand, black people who committed the same crimes are described as thugs, while Muslims, or people of islamic faith, are considered domestic or international terrorists.

Frisby’s study analyzed how often headlines were designated to people of different races. In her study, she found that 80 percent of white people’s actions were attributed to mental illness, while 75 percent of thugs were black and 37 percent of terrorists were Muslim. What’s even more disturbing, however, is how 75 percent of whites were labeled heroes in these incidents -- way beyond the 16 percent attributed to black people. It’s evident: white shooters have privileges in the media. That’s no debate.

CityNews Toronto, a Canada-based news organization, described why white shooters aren’t considered terrorists in most news headlines. In the video, the correspondents suggested that viewers have gotten used to hearing the media label people of color as terrorists so often that they assume white shooters are suffering from mental illness. Not only do these actions reflect the lack of ethical and unbiased reporting by today’s media outlets, but it also signifies people’s perception of mental health conditions.

Though there have been people who suffer from mental illness that have committed mass shootings, the percentage of those that do aren’t as high as the media portrays. In fact, the majority of people with a mental health condition are non-violent, let alone setting off mass shootings. Still, the news organization’s misinformed headlines - which is representative of their desperation for clicks and viewership - does much more damage than one may concur.

Beyond reinforcing racial and religious profiling, the glorification of these incidents can provoke contagion or copycat killers whose motives are to garner national attention from these media organizations. Also, people who suffer from mental health conditions may be hesitant to accept or seek help, especially with organizations linking their illnesses with mass killings. It’s important these news outlets report accurately, for it reduces the formation of stereotypes associated with race, religion, and mental health. And, more importantly, it decreases the risk of these incidents from occurring in the future.

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