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.)