Perhaps a little media control is needed
Last week, I spoke at a small government and politics class at the Crook County Open Campus about reporting on politics and what we at a community newspaper face when doing so.
A significant piece of that topic is how things have changed over the years because of the saturation of social media as well as online access, both of which provide literal up-to-the second information on just about anything.
Part of that conversation with the students and instructor Judy Stiegler, who some might remember is a former state legislator, centered on the fact that mass media is becoming more and more dominated by 24/7 news channels such as Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and others.
Essentially, a combination of these media outlets, other print and radio equivalents are now frequently brewing with social media in such a way that bad news is shoved into people's faces and minds like never before. What's worse, the opinion-driven style that the news is delivered, heavy on commentary and biased analysis, is bleeding into social media interaction and dividing people on the issues and providing a forum for anonymous and sometimes venomous exchanges.
Little did I know as I was speaking to this class that news of a Florida school shooting had just broke. By the time I had returned to my desk, I opened my internet browser to the sad news that 17 students and staff had been killed. All I could do at that moment is let that familiar, painful feeling swell my heart and wonder why this keeps happening. I also felt, though I am in no hurry for my children to grow up, that they can't get through the public school system quickly enough.
But as I later reflected on the latest incident and the almost predictable and partisan responses that flooded the national news and my Facebook feed, I came back to a belief that I just can't seem to shake — and it tied directly into a conversation I had just shared earlier that day with a group of college students. Perhaps this current version of mass media is indirectly contributing to the escalating incidents of mass shooting, particularly school shootings.
I found myself thinking back to when the Kip Kinkel shooting happened in Springfield 20 years ago. National news was not nearly as pervasive as it is today. The internet was relatively new to the public, and news coverage didn't inundate people in near the same way it does today. There was no Facebook then where people could spread political memes nor could they argue so easily, carrying out heated exchanges with strangers across the country that too often devolve into name-calling, shouting matches.
These shootings are seemingly happening much more often than they did 20 years ago. What has changed during this time span? People have and sadly always will be mentally ill. Gun laws may have changed, but if anything, they are stricter than they used to be. But mass media coverage — that has changed a lot and has shoved these incidents not only in our faces, but in the faces of people who are mentally ill and might consider similar actions.
This weekend, I engaged in an online conversation with a gentleman who lives half of the year in the U.S. and the other half in England. Like many of us, he is trying to figure out how to stop this senseless violence. His contention is that England doesn't face near as many mass shooting incidents and he concludes it is due to stricter gun laws.
Still ruminating on my theory, I asked him what mass media coverage is like in the U.K. versus the U.S. when it comes to such violent acts. Interestingly, he said that news coverage is not only far lighter on coverage of shootings, but the BBC actually criticizes the U.S. media for the way it essentially glamorizes shootings and terror acts.
I am not saying that the mass media is the only cause, but giving these incidents and the people who carry them out so much air time just seems to contribute to the problem without providing any semblance of an answer. And the analyses? They only fan the flames of ongoing arguments and divide us further at a time where coming together is critical. Something needs to change.