OPINION: The Media Should do a Better Job When Reporting on Tragedies

Malvika Mahendhra, Editor-in-Chief

April 20, 1997. Sept. 11, 2001. Dec. 14, 2012. Feb. 14, 2018. These are only a few of the dates where the world stood in horror as they watched tragedy unfold on television in front of them. In the past decade, media coverage has risen with access to new technology, allowing the entire world to attain information on the latest events in a matter of seconds. However, media coverage is far from perfect. In response to tragedy, the media has evolved into a system where myth passes as fact, victims of shootings become tools to increase ratings and a place to facilitate hate.

On April 20, 1997, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris shot 13 people at the high school they attended. The mass school shooting shocked the country as the media updated their audience every second with their live coverage. In Dave Cullen’s nonfiction book, Columbine, he documents how news broadcasters took calls from students at the school to give viewers inside access to the chaos happening at Columbine High School despite the danger and risk it may have imposed to the students trapped inside the school. In the days after the shooting, the media passed a narrative about Harris and Klebold on how they were troubled, bullied youths and supposedly part of an outcast group called the Trench Coat Mafia. However, in his book Cullen explores how the media passed untrue stories about the killers and the victims that would continue to be believed as fact to this day. Klebold and Harris were not part of the Trench Coat Mafia, nor were they bullied or even outcasts. In fact, they had an extensive friend circle, attended social events like prom, and were seen as attractive and funny. The media has the power to inform the millions, yet when the media responds in haste, misconceptions can occur leaving the truth completely buried under myth.

One of the worst terrorist attacks humanity witnessed occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. However, the world watched as something more hateful unfolded months after the attacks. Following the terrorist attack, the media began to publish headlines that indirectly created a negative outlook on Muslims and added to feelings of Islamophobia. In a study done by Cardiff University in Wales, United Kingdom, researchers found that post 9/11, the majority of news coverage portrayed Muslims in a negative light. Upon further research, they discovered that about two-thirds of newspaper articles on British Muslims were focused on terrorism and that adjectives like “radical” and “fanatical” were used to describe Muslims. While the media post 9/11 could have used their influence to bring the world together, news coverage after 9/11 generated an unwarranted link between Muslims and terrorism.

The media also seems to lack sensitivity in times of tragedy. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, media outlets like CNN and NBC began broadcasting interviews with the children, moments after the shooting. Child psychologist, Donna Gaffney, says that the first 24 hours after an event like a shooting is when a child needs to be with people that love and support them. Hearing stories from victims can give a clearer understanding on the event or bring forth action, yet forcing a camera in front of a child seconds after the rescue is cruel and can cause a negative impact. Victims of tragedy, especially children, have become tools the media uses to gather ratings.

The media can surround us at any second or any place. Its power and influence stretches across oceans and foreign lands. Every day, the media presence grows stronger in our lives, yet as media coverage increases, the news should not have to compromise on integrity and sympathy.