When horrible tragedies such as school shootings occur, it can be our knee jerk reaction to watch and listen to 24-hour news coverage. Networks, while reporting significant news to their audiences, are still in competition for viewers. As such, stories often get sensationalized; the factual information will all be accurate, the features will be up-to-date, the issues will be similar across the board, but media outlets are still competing to have the most details — however irrelevant, even insensitive to the victims — and the most intense way of presenting those details. People tend to gravitate towards the loudest noisemaker, so many news sources will attempt to “grab” people’s attention in various ways, often by discussing every single trait or action or life detail of the killer, in Sandy Hook’s case a mass murderer.
But it’s important to remember that the massive amount of news coverage can often encourage copycats. Why? There’s no easy answer; obviously, dozens of uncontrollable and controllable factors go into why somebody could and would do such a thing. Nevertheless, if a person already possesses many of those elements in his life, and — as many spree killers tend to reveal — feels as though he is not receiving deserved prestige or attention, this incredible amount of around-the-clock coverage can seem very appealing.
According to forensic psychiatrist and criminologist Dr. Park Dietz, this aspect of the “normal” reaction our culture has to crime is dangerous. In a video that’s now making the Internet rounds due to resurfacing after yesterday’s tragedy, he details for BBC what the media should do instead of what they tend to do. After Germany’s Winnenden school shooting in 2009 committed by a former student, he explained what news stations were doing wrong:
His major issues with outlets:
- Do not start the story with sirens blaring.
- Do not have photographs of the killer.
- Do not do around-the-clock reporting on the incident.
- Do not make the body count the main story.
- Do not make the killer some kind of anti-hero.
Mass murder is absolutely terrifying; it is in its own category of horror, so there is a natural instinct to jump on the story and for us, as readers (as well as writers), to find every detail we possibly can in order to make sense of something so deeply disturbing. But there is a certain responsibility to uphold for news sources, especially ones who distribute information to millions. Dietz notes that these advisements are so important “because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week.”