Monday, April 30, 2007

Tragedy Coverage

In the midst of tragedy, decisions are often made when circumstances are largely unknown and information still lingers outside the grasp of the masses. For this reason, it is critical for the media to produce as much information as quickly as possible so that the public sphere has the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions related to the tragedy. However, some information is better left dead--at least for a while. Starting in the 1990's and continuing into the new century, school shootings have rocked our nation in unprecedented frequency. This most horrific trend is too complex for a journalist such as myself to accurately dissect, but I believe that the shootings themselves are a sick response to our nation's declining morals. Blame, outside the shooters themselves, cannot be placed on any one entity, but the trend itself may, in my opinion, be a combination of three things: one, that our society's digression into the commonplace of pervasive violence in all forms of media; two, that the violence shown in the media isn't coined as "bad"; and three, of which this post will be centered around, there is a disconnect between the shootings and mass society. Furthermore, on this third point, I believe our nation does not know how to handle such tragedy, and the lack of that specific knowledge has led to the development of a sort of copy-cat effect in which these shootings occur again and again because the media, in a way, glorifies the shootings and thinks little of the traumatic emotional damage inflicted on the victims. For example, in this most recent and tragic Virginia Tech shooting, NBC displayed the shooters video diary for all to see over the Internet—I didn't see this video on TV—NBC defiled the University and it's many victims when they decided to show this video. I can recall one police authority saying that the video re-attacked the victims involved in the incident. Blame cannot be placed on NBC though. Blame can only be placed on those who knew better--who knew? I don't believe our nation, as a whole, has any idea how to act in the following weeks of these shootings. Moreover, I don't believe we have devised ways in which to prevent these shootings in the future. It is a great deal harder to prevent these tragedies in our country than in most others because we have the right to bare arms as well as the right to free expression (media's violence). NBC, as well as the rest of the media, needs to rely on the voice of experts when dealing with tragedies and not their own ideas of news coverage in cases such as these. The video could serve the public in no way, especially in the way it was displayed. Maybe it could be used as an example of warning signs to look out for in the future, but the way they put the shooters face on seemingly countless screens is completely disrespectful to the victims and their family and friends. This is the video NBC should have focused upon:

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Potter Box

The Potter Box allows for clear decisions in terms of deciding loyalties when a specific and conclusive definition of the event being evaluated is established, but is this also the case when the event's definition is unclear? For instance, in the case of many international events, facts can be confusing and hard to understand because of different cultural norms and the issue of specifics being lost in translation. Is the potter box still useful when this is the case? I believe so. Taking as much information as possible into consideration in order to formulate the most accurate description as we can is often the best we can do. Even when we can't confirm the exactness of our definition we must move forward. When looking at what Hume says about the distribution of information--that it is better to get information out sooner, even when that information isn't guaranteed to be accurate, than to wait for a sure thing at which time the information is no longer relevant or useful--we can make the same assumption about deciding loyalties. Sometimes we must arrive at a conclusion before we can be sure of what exactly happened. The truth is elusive and waiting around for a sure thing is unrealistic. We must take the facts we have and use our common sense to best judge the situation. As reporters, this means we try to get the facts and we always aim for the truth, but when we can't get the sure thing, we must still act. We have decisions to make and deadlines to meet--sometimes we have to take the shot without knowing exactly what we will hit. This is the nature of the business. Asking a stock broker to predict the market's future would be foolish, such is the case with asking a journalist to print only the unwavering truth. Back to the Potter Box--asking ourselves to make decisions and decide upon loyalties only when we can be certain every aspect of the situation is far from realistic. We aim, fire, and hope for the best. The best, in terms of truth, is not the truth--it is as close we can come to it. A reporter's duty is to work towards gaining truth. It is not the reporter's duty to be the truth.