I am thankful for…honesty in the midst of opportunistic journalism

As we all know, an horrific tragedy occurred on the campus of Virginia Tech on Monday, April 16th. I cannot imagine being the parent of any of the children who lost their lives that day. I can only extend condolences and prayers to the families of the victims, to those still fighting for their lives, and to those with wounds who are now recovering. I can try to understand that the professors and students who were in classes that day are experiencing pain, yet I cannot say I understand that pain. If I were there, I could extend support by lending my presence if needed or wanted.

I cannot imagine, though, people preying on those students who chose to share their horrendous experiences on their own blogs that day and days following. I’m referring to some journalists who just have to get the story. Journalists who must be first on the scene.

I’m not knocking journalists. Without journalists, we wouldn’t have access to information about the world and around the world to which we have access now. And, in fact, I’m sure being a journalist is tough; I surely wouldn’t want to be one. I discovered a quote from CNN Student News, regarding the role of the journalist, which stated:

“(A journalist has the) inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of a history that will never be completed about a world we can never understand.” – Phil Graham, late chairman of the board of the Washington Post Company

And surely, there is no understanding the massacre one man imposed upon dozens of people. Yet, one must question the motives of journalists who use these students’ tragedies to get a story.

As has been reported, many students recorded the incident, as they saw it and experienced it, on their personal blogs, whether on Facebook, MySpace, LiveJournal, Friendster, etc. Surely, their entries were not meant for public consumption. Robin Hamman of cybersoc.com wrote about this phenomenon in his post, “virginia tech bloggers: approach and confirm or link and disclaim?” He refers to Robert Andrews at journalism.co.uk who reports of one blogger in his post, “Reporters turn to blogs for shooting witnesses,”

“Bryce Carter, who reported hearing gunshots at the university campus, subsequently wrote of his mixed emotions after his posts were picked up by Fox News: ‘Each time I hear something else, I get a brief moment of selfish joy before I am stabbed in the heart, realising that I deserve no credit and that lives are gone, destroyed and in pain.

“‘What is the significance of all this? My postings are simply what I always do, except I left my thoughts for the public instead of just my friends.'”

It seems some journalists are getting their stories about the massacre by perusing blogs to find authors who wrote posts on their personal blogs about the incident from their own perspectives. Hamman discovered one reporter’s approach:

“Sorry to hear about this. CBC Newsworld is doing live interviews with people who are affected by the shooting. Can you please drop me a line at [email] when you have a moment? THANKS”

There are many more of these types of inquiries Hamman writes about in his post. And to me, it seems sad. Young people are experiencing tremendous tragedy, and reporters, wanting to get a good story, pounce upon these students in their time of grief and pain. I just think there is a problem with attempting to capitalize on the tragedy of others. There is something unethical about it, borderline inhumane. I recognize that journalists have a job to do. But isn’t there a better way of obtaining a story than obtrusively gaining access to people’s lives by scouring blogs? I understand that by putting your personal information on a blog you’re out there in the open for the entire world to see. But do we not, in our own souls, understand that people are going through intense tragedy? Can journalists put themselves in the shoes of the victims and ask themselves, “Would I want to be barraged by people who I don’t even know to suck a story out of me?”

We need to know that there are unethical journalists out there. And Hamman lays out the truth of the situation. But in recognizing and acknowledging the truth that some journalists are using “underhanded” methods to get their information, there is opportunity for those journalists to redeem themselves. Hamman states,

“…yesterday’s events, and the ensuing media frenzy in the comments of a LiveJournal user and elsewhere, show that where mainstream media does use – and yes, that word was chosen deliberately – content created by bloggers, that the journalists, researchers and reporters do it with sensitivity.

“Think when you link. Understand that some content published in public was never intended to be seen by a mass audience.

I am thankful for people like Robin Hamman who have exposed the truth about this type of reporting. It allows me to see the reporting of incidents like that which occurred at Virginia Tech in a different light.

How do you feel about the reporting of the Virginia Tech massacre?

(Disclaimer: This post didn’t really go where I wanted it to – but this is where it ended up. Sorry if it doesn’t make much sense; yet, I hope it is of some value.)

6 comments

  1. Lillie Ammann says:

    While I certainly don’t think people should have their privacy invaded, I know from personal experience that sometimes it helps people to talk. Perhaps talking in their blogs was enough for the students who blogged, but I heard TV commentators say that students were coming up to them and wanting to tell their stories.

    I wrote a post on my blog about this and described writing a book about a workplace violence incident that resulted in two deaths and one serious injury. I had serious qualms about writing the book after a group of the injured victim’s friends asked me. We wanted to raise money for her medical expenses, and circumstances came together (I believe God directed the circumstances) to make a book the best option. But I was concerned about interviewing other people involved – those who escaped after witnessing the murder of friends, others who had been ministering to the murderer, and family members of both the victims and the killer who had been there when the crime happened.

    However, as soon as I introduced myself and got permission to interview them, the people involved started talking and stopped only when I needed the change the tape in the recorder. Every once in a while I asked a question to clarify something they said, but otherwise, they just talked and shared their experiences and feelings. I let each one read the book before it was published to be sure they were comfortable with it. The only one who hesitated at all was the killer’s cousin, who was concerned about a negative reaction from other people because she was related to someone who would do this horrific act. However, after I offered to remove her from the book, she said she wanted to be in there because she thought her experiences might help other people who go through similar traumas.

    So while journalists have to be careful not to exploit people, sometimes people like having a chance to share their experiences and feelings. Talking about the incident was a great catharsis for the people I interviewed. I have to emphasize, though, that while I described the event, the focus of the book was on the remarkable faith, hope, courage, and love shown by the victims. The book was positive, about how they overcame the trauma, rather than negative, about what a terrible thing happened.

  2. KWiz says:

    Thank you, Lillie, for shedding some light on this subject. I hope that the journalists covering this story have more at stake than just reporting how people got killed. I can see how, especially with your approach, how talking about the event was part of a healing process for them. I appreciate you sharing your experiences here. I’ll make sure I read your post about this carefully.

  3. Paula Neal Mooney says:

    I think a guy who was on the Oprah show about the Virginia Tech shootings said it best: That whatever we focus on grows larger.

    He was a Columbine student that was there during that tragedy.

    So he said we should focus more on the lives of those who died instead of the killer.

    His viewpoint really got me to thinking.

    I hope that’s what is done more so now, especially since the killer left behind so much hateful video content and disturbed writings.

    But now I feel bad for Cho as well, because I learned that when he once tried to read aloud in his high school class, a group of kids laughed at him and teased, “Go back to China.”

    This, of course, is no excuse to kill. I just wished he could’ve gotten help or let love in somehow instead of allowing himself to be overtaken by evil.

  4. KWiz says:

    Hi Paula,
    Children can be so cruel, and often their words directed at other peers can be so hurtful. It’s awful he wasn’t able to learn how to channel his anger and learn how to deal with and process the feelings of rejection he must’ve felt. But as you said, it’s no excuse to kill at all.

  5. iamnotstarjones says:

    With sensitivity to Virginia Tech students, faculty and all survivors of Monday’s massacre, I do want to know the facts of what happened on Monday.

    An exploration of the school’s and Blacksburg police response.
    An exploration of security procedures
    An exploration of how Mr. Cho purchased his weapons and where he got the money from
    An exploration of if the school and his family received any clues on how damaged his psyche was
    And a remembrance for the lives lost.

    I do not know anyone who died on Monday yet I am touched by the lives lived.

    There is a tendency in America culture
    to stick our (our references: media, government, academia, science) heads in the sand when horrible crimes are committed.

    Let Monday’s massacre be a wake up call that we need to explore and examine our culture, lives and institutions that may have contributed or stopped the reality of last Monday.

    Yes it is a risk that media may go overboard but that’s a risk we should be willing to take to have some clarity on
    mental illness, mass murderers, gun culture impact on us as a society.

  6. KWiz says:

    Hi iamnotstarjones!
    I’m just getting caught up on my commenting, but I wanted to thank you for taking the time to comment on this post. I agree, we need to wake up and HONESTLY talk about what we are doing in our culture. We are incredibly self-indulgent, and we tend to ignore that which does not concern us personally.

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