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(Farm and Dairy file picture, not from Connecticut)

Over the weekend, I read a statement from actor Morgan Freeman blaming the media for the type of violence happening in public places — most recently the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

The statement said the violence is happening “because of the way the media reports it,” and scrutinized news organizations for referring to the Connecticut shooting as the nation’s second deadliest.

The argument, in general, was that the media gives too much attention to these events, which in turn encourages other mentally disturbed individuals to act out in additional forms of violence.

Judging by Internet comments, it would appear there was a lot of agreement with what the writer stated.

False statement

But there were also some critical issues. First, it was quickly confirmed by some of the same media the writer criticized, that Morgan Freeman had no part in the letter. It was a hoax, the whole way around.

Upon learning of this, many readers said they still supported the writer’s statement, no matter who wrote it.

I’m one of the ones who did not.

I’ll agree that media — especially large media — needs to give careful attention to how they handle news like this, and weigh each fact they report and ask themselves why it matters.

Balancing act

There are definitely times when reporting can get out of hand, and when decisions should have been made more carefully.

But I take issue with the answer of this letter writer, to just “turn off the news.” (OK, maybe if you’ve been watching the same thing for hours on end).

But truthfully, I saw a lot of good come out of the reportage of what just happened.

The Poynter Institute — a popular training program for journalists — reported that the local newspaper, the Newtown Bee, has an associate editor who also is a volunteer firefighter. She was one of the first on scene and put her newspaper duties on hold while she put on her firefighter gear.

In the article from Poynter, she talked about the challenge of covering the event as an editor and a firefighter, while personally knowing many of the students and their families.

Even the mainstream news had scores of reports that involved personal stories, as reporters and news anchors talked about their own lives as parents and what this event means to them. And the video packages they produced of the victims and their families were heart-touching.

How much is enough?

I’m not sure what the right measuring stick is for an event like this — as to how much you report and for how long. But I know as a reporter myself, there are a lot of stories that surround an event like this — especially about victims and families and whole communities.

There can be a great benefit to reporting in a time like this, and good reporting can also bring about a sense of healing and closure. For the families of the lost, a news story can help people know the ones lost far greater than a name or an obituary.

From my own experience, I hate trying to interview people who have just experienced a major tragedy. I worry that they’ll think I’m insensitive or that I’m bothering them, or, like the writer of the fake Freeman statement alleges, that I’m trying to sell a story at someone’s expense.

What usually happens is that they’re glad we did the story — that we shared with the masses the feelings and sentiments that the victims themselves could not. Good reportage also has the potential to help bring about change, and that can lead to a better life for the victims, and society at large.

Handling the story

The way I see it, there is a real-life narrative unfolding about what just happened — a narrative that affects many lives and a narrative that exists and needs to be told.

It’s important not to add to the narrative — it exists on its own. But neither should it be ignored nor silenced.

I look forward to the stories of healing and giving in Connecticut, because those, too, are part of the narrative. And it’s the job of “media” to bring us those.

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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