Reporting on mass shootings – How far should we go?

A father of one of the theater shooting victims is challenging the media not to say the suspect’s name in an effort to curb copy-cat crimes and notoriety.

He believes media coverage can motivate more mass-shootings.

He named this challenge after his son, Alex Teves.   (See the challenge here.)

We have received feedback at 9NEWS asking us to avoid saying the suspect’s name and to avoid showing his image as much as possible.

In my opinion, this is a sensible request.

I have tried my best to avoid saying the suspect’s name and showing his image as much as possible over the last several weeks when talking about the criminal case.

We must be sensitive to the requests of the victims and their request just makes sense to a point.

On the flip side….

We journalists have a duty to the truth, even if people find the truth offensive.

Often people blame the media for a lot of things and we reporters become the target of a hateful emails and phone calls when we report on tragedies and horrible events like the theater shooting.

Reporting on horrible incidents like this is NOT fun for many of us because what we do is seen as superficial and plastic. We get hateful looks and receive a lot of contempt.

Out all the noise, sometimes we can add perspective about things like loopholes in laws, lack of government services and taboo issues like mental illness.

Sometimes we can rally a community together and call for donations and support.

Sometimes we find problems and they get fixed.

Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable to put a face to these problems and that’s where reporting facts and names can often offend many.

There is a thin line in reporting the news and sanitizing copy out of fear you will alienate your audience and offend those who have already been hurt by a tragedy. I struggle with this daily hoping to serve our viewership respectfully.

I want your honest opinion. How far should we go with this challenge? I think it’s an interesting idea. And please…in the comments section…..go easy.

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3 thoughts on “Reporting on mass shootings – How far should we go?

  1. Carla Morgan

    I fully support the Alex Teves Challenge! Yes, as a journalist you have a moral obligation to report the truth. However…..we all are fully aware of this cowards name by now. Do we need to give hime anymore notoriety? I actually get sick to my stomach every time I hear his name. I want to thank you for your insight in this very sensitive matter.
    Aunt of Alex Teves

  2. A Student Journalist

    It’s a very fine line indeed, Mr. Jojola. One that I personally do not like. I say this as a student who is an aspiring journalist, a mom, and so on. But to me, I often find that not facing these suspects is often because of fear. People like to say it’s fear of copy cats, and to an extent… I can truly see that. It just rubs me the wrong way personally, when people would rather live in fear or ignorance of who these potentially dangerous people/suspects are.

    As a journalist, it is your duty to keep the public informed about these people for many different reasons. A major reason I can think of off the top of my head would be, “what if the suspect were to escape custody (god forbid)?” If people refuse to see their faces and know their names, it could actually endanger the public. In all fairness, that is the worst case scenario though, so make of that one example what you will.

    Instead of living in fear, the best way to beat this is to face the person head on. Let them know that as a whole, we know what they did and while we find it disgraceful we will not be pushed into hiding from them either.

    I don’t know if I put this the right way, but that’s just one persons thought.

    Thank you for the open forum for this discussion though! It most certainly needs to be discussed!

  3. KO in CO

    I know I will offend some people, but I disagree. What happened was beyond horrific, and tragic, and never should have happened. But, James Holmes DOES have a name – it was given to him by his family, people who love him and who weren’t shooting up a theater that night. He may not be dead, but for all intents and purposes, he’s gone from them forever. I think people tend to forget the other people suffering in this as well. Nobody from either side of this tragedy is unscathed.


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