Reality Check: Should media stop using the names of school gunmen?
By now, the names of all the schools targeted by gunmen are hard enough to remember-- let alone the name of the shooters.
The massacre two weeks ago in Santa Fe, Texas, was at a high school considered a “hard target.” It was a school with not one, but two armed police officers walking the halls. One of whom was shot and wounded by the gunman who ultimately killed eight students and two teachers.
I’ve been asked more than once why the media names the gunmen in these shootings.
I can’t speak for the media, but I think it’s a good question that newsrooms across the country do debate every time one of these shootings happens.
Academic studies indicate there is a contagion effect when mass shootings are reported. Meaning, the chances of copycat shootings are heightened immediately following these massacres.
At least two organizations have been formed challenging the media to show restraint when using the names of the gunmen.
The “No Notoriety” campaign was started by the father of a victim of the 2012 Aurora Movie Theater shooting in Colorado.
It challenges the media to limit the use of the shooter’s name after initial identification unless they are still at large. It also challenges the press to refuse to broadcast any photos of the shooter, along with self-serving statements and manifestos. And, it asks journalists to recognize the impact of notoriety and how it could inspire copycat crimes.
As someone who has long believed the public deserves more information, not less, these would be real challenges to me in my younger days as a news manager.
And I have made some tough calls in my career.
I have used the name of minors involved in first-degree murder cases, for example. I have shown video of SWAT teams gunning down a murder suspect to eliminate any question of their use of force.
Today’s news managers have to make these types of tough decisions on a daily basis. But showing the kind of restraint requested in the challenge is not unprecedented in the news business.
The press already limits information in a number of ways. It routinely does not report suicides out of concern of incentivizing more. It doesn’t report the names of rape victims without their consent. And it doesn’t report bomb threats-- unless it creates a major disruption that requires explanation.
I understand that limiting the names of shooters won’t eliminate school shootings any more than arming teachers or police roaming the halls. But, even though my younger self might disagree, today I would accept that challenge.
John's opinions are his own and are not necessarily those of Denali Media or its employees.
Questions or comments about this editorial? Email John Tracy.
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