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Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver II talks to the media and answers questions about the elementary school shooting during a press conference at Treadwell Memorial Park on December 15, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.
Testimony began yesterday in the trial of the suspect in the July movie theater shooting in Aurora, CO. Coverage of the shooting and the trial add to a fast-spreading discussion about how the media should cover mass violence. Standard media practices have evolved throughout the years to accommodate other tragedies – new outlets don’t publish details of most rapes, and especially don’t publish details about the victim and their appearance.
Suicides are hardly ever covered unless the person is especially famous; details are kept under wraps to prevent “copycat” attempts and associations between the act of suicide and notoriety. Several news outlets have argued that mass murders may be spurred on by the idea of fame. Could new, self-imposed restrictions on reporting these crimes change the impact of the press? Some have suggested leaving names and details about the perpetrators out of coverage completely, or at least until they are on trial. Many many have called for less sensationalized reporting, criticizing reporters who interview traumatized victims and witnesses in the immediate aftermath of tragic events.
Could media sensitivity have an effect on the future of violent crime? Is re-focusing reporting away from perpetrators of violence a good media decision? Does the public have the right to know details of crimes like these, or could a degree of removal be beneficial?
Steve Buttry, works in corporate editorial for the Journal Register Company, which owns daily and weekly newspapers across the United States
Ms. Kelly McBride, Senior Faculty for Ethics, Poynter Institute