Winnenden, Germany School Shooting: The Media

March 13, 2009 at 6:52 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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As I was watching a BBC television story on the Winnenden, Germany school shooting Wednesday night, I was sickened not just by the content, but the media coverage.

The coverage itself was bothersome because there was no context – i.e. no explanation – added to the timeline of events, and it made me think that coverage of school shootings tends to follow a predictable sequence.

First, reporters try to establish a “tick tock” of events. This is of course crucial, and no easy task. It has taken years to unravel the details of the Columbine shootings – in part because the Jefferson County Sheriff withheld information – but consider the difficulty of nailing hundreds of details within the first hours.

Next are the interviews with people who knew – or think they knew – the shooter. “I just can’t figure out why he did it,” they say. There is a collective surrender, as if there is nothing that can be done. There is nothing to do but repeat the history of school shootings and indicate this is part of a puzzling trend. Until the next one occurs.

I did come across one article the day of the shootings that was discussing gun control. And that angle continues to be covered. The New York Times today seemed to push violent video games angle, but without a full exploration. The BBC mentioned depression in the shooter, but again failed to fully explore the issue.

I am not knocking daily journalism – you certainly can’t cover everything in a day. And the New York Times did post its excellent series on rampage killers the day of the shootings.

But I would argue the gun control and video games explanations are too simplistic. And there are experts out there – albeit a few – who have studied some of the common denominators among school shooters. (That’s the topic I wrote on the day of the shootings.) Expertise and context can connect the dots, rather than simply add to the gruesome timeline.

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