Take A News Break Day

As many of you readers know, I was teaching at Virginia Tech on April 16 last year. The devastation we all felt losing people dear to us was deeply exacerbated by an invasion of a press corps whose satellite vehicles alone filled a football stadium parking lot. To say that these folks were insensitive would be an understatement. I never had any respect for the kind of journalism, especially TV journalism, that chases ambulances. But even my cynicism did not prepare me for what I saw those days.

So, in light of the Northern Illinois University shootings, I will be taking a news break today. I encourage you to consider doing the same. The NIU shootings will, no doubt, be the top headline on most news networks and websites and every click or minute spent watching gives more encouragement to these (mostly) commercial enterprises to exploit others’ pain for profit. My thoughts will be with the NIU community for today and for the days to come. But I’m not going to kid myself that viewing news reports on CNN or MTV is going to help these folks heal. But I’ll stop, because I’ve written about “pornography of the real” before.

If you must read about the shootings, I encourage you to visit Northern Illinois University‘s website, or to read the Dekalb Daily-Chronicle. In my experience last year the news sources that were most valuable were the Virginia Tech website and our local newspaper, the Roanoke Times, whose coverage was sensitive, even-handed, and comprehensive. Their coverage only (re)confirmed for me that when it comes to telling stories, place — where you come from, where you live, the people you call neighbors — matters.

3 Responses to “Take A News Break Day”

  1. LA Says:

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you’re trying to say, but I respectfully disagree with what I believe to be your contention.

    Would it be better if the media didn’t cover tragedies like this at all? Their job is to report what’s going on in the world. Should they ignore when people are in pain?

    Without them shedding light on things like this, do you think the government and schools would feel so much pressure to fix things–to look into how to prevent this in the future? If so, you have much more faith in the character of politicians than I do!

    In addition, there’s now a fund set up for victims’ families. If the media didn’t cover this story, no one would know about that fund. They could mention it in passing, but not showing what’s going on would not make people feel a connection to anyone and a strong desire to help.

    And the entire country benefits from this coverage (as they did the VA Tech coverage) when it causes other schools to wake up and implement better safety procedures.

    I think it’s perfectly legitimate to complain about some of the tactics certain types of reporters might use to get the story. It can also be beneficial to debate about whether this type of intense coverage may encourage copycats. But I disagree with a sweeping generalization like this–saying that even going to cover the story is “ambulance chasing” and “exploiting others’ pain for profit” … unless we all want to live in a bubble, never knowing what anyone else is going through … until it hits our own doorstep.

  2. Paul Says:

    Thanks for your comments. I always welcome healthy debate like this.

    Covering an event like this is undeniably important. If I didn’t think so I would not have included links to the Dekalb paper or NIU’s website.

    For me, the problem is the MSM’s inability to separate violent crime from exploitative tactics and sensationalist reporting. (Photojournalism and tv news being the primary offenders.) I refrained from going into specifics about some of the things my colleagues, my students, and I saw last April, but I could give you a laundry list of stories that would make your head spin. One example: A journalist posed as a priest in an attempt to get into a hospital to speak to the critically injured. Why? For what? A so-called “scoop”?

    Sorry, I don’t think the country “benefits from this coverage.” There is little content, and even less analysis. In my opinion it’s mostly empty sentiment and shocking imagery. And when the imagery loses its power to shock, the news crews move on. The only time they leave earlier is when they’re barred, as they were at VT after a week. And, yet, still some tried to film classes through building windows.

    And, pardon my cynicism, but where were these investigative reporters in the run-up to our invasion of Iraq?

  3. tom Says:

    I have to admit that I end up getting most of my news from CCN’s website, as terrible and limited as that is. It’s part of whatever internet compulsion I have.

    As much as I tend to read a good deal on these horrific events, I see little value in most of the coverage for the country at large. One of the most frustrating pieces is that each time one of these terrible events happens, the likeliness of it repeating increases because acts once thought too horrific to be plausible are now just plausible and a means for attention for broken people.