When media coverage goes too far

By Careesa Campbell | Opinions Editor 

News coverage is the most dangerous when there isn’t any news.

When reporters are left without answers to a disaster, people around the world go into a panic. They rely on the media to give them anything to help them understand, but this is where the danger lies.

When there isn’t new information to release, broadcasting tends to continuously recirculate what has already been reported, which becomes overbearing.

During the weekend following the Isla Vista shooting, the constant circulation of Elliot Rodger’s manifesto and his numerous YouTube videos were not only disturbing but unnecessary.

Continuously spotlighting murder and other crimes, such as the most recent mass shooting of UCSB students, can encourage others who are inclined to seek the same attention the offender is receiving to do the same, or worse.

The media has always had a strong effect on society, but the psychological effects on the public may be stronger than we know.

Since 2008, there have been 82 fatal college and university rampage shootings in the United States and this morbid trend can only be expected to grow.

The media is expected to cover such tragedies, and rightfully so.

However, the amount of attention the media gives these events is crossing a fine line of reporting the truth and glorifying the crimes.

More often than not, the news will report a step-by-step account of how the killer committed the crime, the weapons used and detail premeditation, thus handing any “copycat killers” a specific description to commit their own crime.

Ratings skyrocket when a station is covering a breaking news story because people want to know every last gruesome detail. But just because the ratings are higher, doesn’t mean the reporting is worthy of those ratings.

CNN’s much ridiculed round-the-clock coverage of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 took speculation to a whole new level.

Television broadcasting has especially been known to prolong the intense coverage of tragedies and while it is their job to inform the people of the latest and most accurate news updates, it is unnecessary to rehash the same pictures, phrases and information for hours without revealing anything new, or even for days later for the sake of filling airtime, rather than move on to other newsworthy topics.

In the eight weeks CNN lead with the story of the missing plane, other breaking news stories like landslides in Washington, the ferryboat sinking in South Korea and Russia and Ukraine starting a war were all overshadowed by it.

Because facts in a breaking news story are difficult to verify, the overflow of inessential information can often cause speculation to be accepted as fact and the people reading, listening to or watching the news can be misled and sometimes even misinformed.

It is more of an injustice to the people to have erroneous information given rather than have reporters wait to verify the facts and report the truth.

It was correctly reported that the shooter of the Sandy Hook Elementary School was autistic, but some news sources tried to make connections with autism and violence, which has not been proven true.

Several major news sources got the facts in the Boston Marathon bombing completely wrong. To be fair, the eager journalists are not making up their own facts, but are gathering their information from supposedly legitimate sources such as law enforcement, and may not take the time to double-check the facts under deadline pressure.

CNN reported that the Boston bombing suspect was in custody; The New York Post printed two innocent men as suspects on the front page; The Wall Street Journal stated there were a total of five bombs. All of those reported details were wrong.

After the initial reports of a serious crime, every news station that continues to flash the same pictures and information are not showing them to inform viewers; they are being shown for the sheer sensationalism.

Immediately after the Sandy Hook shooting, reporters interviewed the traumatized children.

According to Debate.org, 80 percent of users said the media went too far in the reporting of this particular shooting, some arguing that the reporters should be ashamed of themselves for interviewing the children because it caused them to relive the trauma without providing any newsworthy information.

The viewers are in part responsible for the continuous recirculation. They are the ones turning on the T.V. and driving up the ratings, which causes the T.V. broadcasters to respond with more of the same.

Since there is always a new story to be told, it is essential the public stay current. However, television broadcasting must avoid sensationalism and provide objective, responsible reporting to break this vicious cycle.