After learning of the shootings at Virginia Tech we asked ourselves: How are we going to cover this?
When we learned that 32 students were killed, we again questioned how we would cover the tragedy.
We decided that we already knew what happened, but were short on the why and solutions.
Mainstream media ignored that question
initially, but were quick to label the killings a massacre in headlines, downplaying the wave of attacks that killed more than 200 in Baghdad the following day.
What were media organizations thinking
as they plastered images of wounded students being carried out of campus buildings by police on their front pages?
Even better, what were reporters thinking as they stuck microphones and recorders in students’ face, asking them to divulge gruesome details of the horrific day?
Better yet, why did NBC decide to broadcast video excerpts of Cho Seung-Hui’s manifesto (with the not-so-obvious NBC logo)?
We think you know the answer to that one, but if you didn’t, here it is: profits. The bottom line is that media coveragem of the tragedy spoke volumes about the fine line between reporting stories and sensationalizing them to sell papers or get ratings. As gatekeepers, we not only facilitate the public’s right to know, but also shape its thoughts, opinions and focus.
Our media counterparts once again crossed the line.
After Columbine in 1999, thanks to media coverage, students wearing trench coats were profiled. Following the 9/11 attacks, Arab-Americans were targeted. And because of media’s sloppy coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings, Asian Americans will now suffer the same fate for awhile.
Now that the smoke has cleared, we are left with several unanswered questions.
But the most important one that all media should be asking is this: How can we prevent such a tragedy from occuring again?
We can achieve that by looking into the root causes of the student’s actions. Seung-Hui said it himself: “You had a hundred billion chances and ways to avoid today.”
His message beckons us to truly evaluate
the conditions in society that would lead an individual to such feelings of intense
isolation, depression, resentment and anger. It asks us to consider if our current social environment produces such an explosive expression of these feelings. Unlike many of our counterparts, we’ve chosen to draw attention to the harsh reality of what it means to be a young adult in American society, desperately
trying to fit in.