I teach at a university. While I wouldn’t say I walk around in fear of a student rampage, since Virginia Tech it occasionally crosses my mind. I understand there’s probably a greater likelihood of my getting hit by a car on campus by a texting student driver, but of course, there’s something deeply unsettling about shooting rampages.
A student at the University of Maryland at College Park was just arrested for making threats to shoot up the campus. He explicitly said that he wanted to “kill enough people to make it to national news.” And indeed, even his mere threat to do so made national news.
Given that national coverage tends to spur copycats, and this person is explicitly stating he wants national news coverage, can I ask why we don’t demand that national news stop covering these stories? I understand that they have a right to cover these stories, I understand that people find them terribly interesting. I can also see how it could be an important local story. But seriously, doesn’t the possibility of copycats suggest these should not be covered? Apparently not:
“One of our jobs is to cover the story. If a school shooting takes place, there is no way we cannot cover it.,” said Al Tompkins, who teaches Broadcasting and Online Ethics at the Poynter Institute. “Having said that though, we must be responsible for the tone and degree of our coverage….”
Aren’t the consequences of such coverage outweighed by the benefits of reporting it? Must absolutely everything be reported? Can reporters never use their judgment?