Monday, October 21, 2013

I'm Questioning The Media

First, let me address the shooting that took place just 14 miles from my home. Tragic, horrifying, sad - there really aren't the right words to express it correctly. As parents it makes us want to lock our kids safely away. School is a place where we trust they will be okay. When that trust is shattered we don't know where to turn. As humans, parents or not, we want to be able to attend school, go to the mall, or go to the movie theater and trust that we will be okay. Again, when that trust is shattered we want to lock ourselves away.

I can't speak for the pain and horror of the victims, their families or the child witnesses. I can't imagine walking two steps in their shoes. I selfishly don't want to. I'll pray for their healing and for those who didn't survive.

Like most, when I hear of a tragedy of this nature I want to know what happened. I want to know who, what, where, when, why and how. Additionally, if I'm in close proximity I want to know that the situation is over and of course that my loved ones are safe. Sadly, we may not always find out the why. And like most, I turn to the media to get those questions answered.

When it comes to a shooting in a school involving children, I need to trust the police officers and the school officials to get the information out there for the media to report.

But when I checked Facebook and saw a local media outlet posting video after video of "eye witness interviews" with 11-13 year old kids, those kids being asked "What did you see?" when they'd just said there were a mere 10 feet from the teacher who was shot... I felt uncomfortable. It didn't feel right.

This news media had already reported that one teacher and one child (the shooter) had died, and that two children had sustained injuries. They had already reported where and what time it had taken place. They were advising parents that their children would be moved to another school for pick up. They had reported that the location had been neutralized and under control. This covered who, what, where and when. We all know that why and how often come later, once information has been gathered. As much as society has turned to instant gratification, I'm okay waiting for that information, if I need it at all.

I just didn't feel that seeing their shock and tears up close on camera helped me "understand" the story any more than if a reporter had stood in front of that camera and reported, "An eyewitness stated...." 

It felt like sensationalism. It felt like the hyping of a story that most definitely needed no hype. I just kept thinking about the kid who said he heard the shot and saw the teacher fall from mere feet away. And I kept wondering how he would be in the days to come. Would he have nightmares? Would he replay it in his head over and over? Would he have PTSD? Would he be able to process the shock and horror in his young mind? And how would he and his parents feel about his interview in a few days or weeks? And most importantly, that their faces, their shaky voices - they were being played for me, the viewer. Not to inform, I'd already been informed, so then for what?

I was not the only one with that opinion. The comments online after every video posting was filled with what seemed like 98% of commenters expressing similar feelings - they didn't like the child interviews. The Executive Director of Media for the outlet was answering these messages with various versions of the exact same message of her own - that it was unfortunate that the eyewitnesses were children and that they only conducted interviews with the children with parents present and with the parents' consent. Well here's a newsflash, consent doesn't make it right. And unfortunately, you don't have to pass a common sense test to be a parent. And come on, who hasn't made a decision in the heat and emotion of the moment that they didn't think through and regretted later?

She held firm for hours, posting her canned response over and over. She responded to my own comment directly insisting that " a community we need to know the story so we can understand, help, and heal." She went on to say that the reporters were honestly thinking about balance, and that she understood not everyone would agree, and that she appreciated the feedback. Various versions of this response were directed toward many commenters.

I explained to her that I understood what she was saying about eyewitnesses, but that left their media outlet with a decision on the best way to relay that information. They could choose a more respectful path, or they could choose the way they were presently doing things. And I personally thought they had made the wrong choice. And as a community member, I could choose where to get my news. I could choose for it not to be with them.

Believe it or not, she responded to me yet again. She said it was "unfortunate" that I felt that way and thanked me again for my comments. Never one to let someone else have the last word (ahem), I responded to her that I did not feel unfortunate at all, rather I felt fortunate that I made decisions I could sleep with at night. I went on to thank her for responding to the large number of people she had, while keeping her dialogue respectful and I acknowledged that it must not be an easy position when facing so many that disagreed with her. I also expressed that if the public doesn't voice what we want and expect from our media, nothing will ever change.

To be fair, the reason I'm not naming the media source is that all of these videos were picked up or done by other outlets as well and played not only locally, but nationally. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that their story can never be told. After they've processed what has happened to them and had time to come to terms with it, if the child and their parents feel it's right and they want to give an interview, then I'm not going to say yay or nay. That's their choice to make. But I do feel that time and distance should be given because maybe after sitting on it for a day or a few days, the parents may not think it's right for them after all.

I've certainly had opinions on the media before. I've rolled my eyes and alternately soaked it up. And yes, I'm guilty of having been sucked into sensationalism. I don't know why this has stuck in my head and heart like it has. And I've been continually questioning myself on my feelings about it. Maybe it was that final straw that pushed me to acknowledge that I don't like where media has gone these days.

I don't have an answer to this. There is no neat summary to tie it up in a bow. This is just a long rant to get it off my chest. Maybe my focus on the media is simply a shield to keep me from from thinking about the fact that... Dear God, a school shooting happened again.



Erin Margolin said...


Thank you for this.
I agree with you on all counts.
I've been living under such a rock, hiding out so much, not watching the news....I'm embarrassed to say I didn't know about this. I was traveling home Saturday from a conference, and then Sunday took the twins to religious school, and Piper's bday was a little out of it....

So now I'm off to see exactly what happened, but I love that you didn't back down. That you told her you didn't feel UNFORTUNATE.


Liz @ A Nut in a Nutshell said...

I'm just not sure that was the way to go either. There's something about the fact they're children that rubs me the wrong way. They just went through a major trauma too.


hiker mom said...

It's not right to interview children about something like this. I can't believe the parents gave permission for something like that. Very sad situation:(

Terri Sonoda said...

Well said, Ally. Couldn't agree more.

Alison said...

Ally, I agree with you. Well said.

Kimberly said...

Oh babe...I'm so sorry. I had to scroll on down because children things trigger some serious demons. I don't listen to the radio or tv much do to this.

Mike said...

Ally, I was extremely upset both with the media and the parents for having their children interviewed like that and specifically at that time. I was privy to a lot of information on this horrific incident. These poor children were in terrible shock when they were in front of the camera and relaying information that was highly inaccurate. I don't hold one iota of blame on them. All in all I've come to have such a callous attitude about the media yet at the same time we need them. But, not like that on that particular day. Fantastic post! :)