A year ago this month nine people were shot and killed and nine more were shot at injured in a classroom at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.
According to some statistics, it was the 45th school shooting in the United States in the year 2015 alone. When President Obama spoke to the nation that day, he said with frustration, “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine.”
Following the shooting at UCC we came together as a faculty at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication to discuss our responsibility as journalism educators and media scholars to examine the reporting of gun violence. We posed the broad question, “What is the responsibility of journalism to victims, to their families and to our communities and to our citizens in reporting gun violence and mass shootings?”
Indeed, we must hold the NRA, elected leaders, the voting public and ourselves accountable. But we must also consider the relationship between media coverage and gun violence. There is a growing body of evidence indicating a connection between media coverage and mass gun violence, with detailed media coverage of the perpetrator and his/her agenda being a possible motivator for subsequent acts. And as journalists and news organizations flock to these communities that are at the center of tragedy, we must also consider the nature of such intense and invasive coverage, as it has the potential to place an additional harm on individuals and communities.
With this understanding, how can journalism responsibly cover gun violence and mass shootings? How do we balance the moral imperatives of seeking truth and minimizing harm?
For the past year, we have been working on a series of initiatives aimed at understanding how the news media cover gun violence, from studying the coverage itself to interviewing journalists who have covered such events to looking at the relationships between the media and community regarding complex issues and civic engagement.
One of the projects is called “Reporting Roseburg.” For this project, Lori Shontz and I conducted in-depth interviews with 19 Oregon-area journalists who covered the Umpqua Community College shooting in Roseburg, Oregon. Our project is intended to be a resource for journalism education and the profession by examining the untold stories of the journalists as part of the news narrative. We wanted to know what the experience was like for individual journalists on the scene of such tragedy—and what journalists, educators and researchers can learn from their stories.
In our interviews, we heard diverse approaches to the coverage of mass shootings. In the end, our project doesn’t advocate for any particular viewpoint. The journalists speak for themselves in their own voices, relaying their emotions and experiences from a personal perspectives. Our on-camera interviews ranged from 45 minutes to more than two hours. We asked a standard set of questions for consistency, but we also allowed the interviews to follow their own course, adding additional questions when the discussion called for it. We captured about 30 hours of footage. In an effort to create a useable resource, the interviews were edited solely for length and grouped into 13 related topic areas.
We hope this project contributes to the conversation about responsibly reporting the complexity of gun violence and mass shootings.
Visit Reporting Roseburg at http://reportingroseburg.uoregon.edu.
Header image credit: Cameron Shultz