WHEN THE MEDIA COVER MASS SHOOTINGS, WOULD DEPICTING THE CARNAGE MAKE A DIFFERENCE ?

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Some argue that news coverage of shootings is too sanitized. puriri/Shutterstock.com

By Nicole Smith Dahmen

Since 20 children were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, we’ve seen public calls for the release of crime scene photos – the idea being that the visceral horror evoked by images of young, brutalized bodies could spur some sort of action to combat the country’s gun violence epidemic.

The day after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting, a Slate article echoed the demand for crime scene photos to be released, arguing that if Americans could actually see the bloodshed, we might finally say, “Enough is enough.”

As a scholar who specializes in photojournalism ethics, I’ve thought extensively about how journalism can responsibly cover gun violence, balancing the moral imperatives of seeking truth while minimizing harm. I’ve also studied how images can galvanize viewers.

Fundamental questions remain: What is the line between informing audiences and exploiting victims and their families? Should the media find a balance between shocking and shielding audiences? And when it comes to mass shootings – and gun violence more broadly – if outlets did include more bloody images, would it even make a difference?

The limitations of a photo

On the same day of the Parkland shooting, my research on news images of mass shootings was published. Given the intense yet fleeting nature of media coverage, I wanted to examine how news outlets cover these crimes, specifically through the lens of visual reporting.

The study analyzed nearly 5,000 newspaper photos from three school shootings: Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Umpqua Community College. Of those images, only 5 percent could be characterized as graphic in nature.

Most depicted the shock and grief of survivors, family and friends. These elements certainly make up an important part of the story. Nonetheless, they create a narrative where, as the Slate article put it, “mass shootings are bloodless.”

Does that matter?

Research has shown that when audiences feel emotionally connected with news events, they’re more likely to change their views or take action. Photographs of violence and bloodshed can certainly serve as a conduit for this emotional connection. Their realism resonates, and they’re able to create a visceral effect that can arouse a range of emotions: sorrow, disgust, shock, anger.

But the power of images is limited. After particularly shocking images appear, what we tend to see are short bursts of activism. For example, in 2015, following the publication of the harrowing image of a drowned Syrian boy lying facedown in the sand, donations to the Red Cross briefly spiked. But within a week, they returned to their typical levels.

The ethics of violent imagery

If a graphic image can inspire some action – even it’s minimal and fleeting – do media outlets have an obligation to run more photos of mass shooting victims?

Perhaps. But other concerns need to be weighed.

For one, there are the victims’ families. Widely disseminated images of their massacred loved ones could no doubt add to their already unthinkable grief.

Moreover, we exist in a media landscape that overwhelms us with images. Individual photographs become harder to remember, to the point that even graphic ones of bloodshed could fade into ubiquity.

Another concern is the presentation of these images. As media consumers, so much of what we see comes from manipulated, sensationalized and trivialized social media feeds. As a colleague and I wrote last year, social media “begs us to become voyeurs” as opposed to informed news consumers. In a digital environment, these images could also be easily appropriated for any number purposes – from pornography to hoaxes – and spread across social media, to the point that their authenticity will be lost.

There’s another unintended consequence: Grisly images could inspire another mass shooting. Research indicates that news coverage of mass shootings – and in particular the attention given to body counts and the perpetrators themselves – can have a contagious effect on would-be mass killers.

Journalism has a responsibility to inform audiences, and sometimes a graphic image does that in a way that words can’t.

However this doesn’t mean that any and all gruesome images should be published. There are professional guidelines for deciding whether to publish these types of images – mainly, to consider the journalistic purpose of publishing them and the “overriding and justifiable need to see” them.

The extent to which graphic images should be present in our news media is an ongoing debate. And it’s one that must continue.

A new image emerges

Following mass shootings, there’s a predictable pattern of news media coverage. There are the breaking news reports filled with speculation. Then details of the perpetrator emerge. Reporters and pundits question whether or not it was an act of terrorism. Elected officials respond with “thoughts and prayers,” and debates about mental health and gun control rage. Finally, there’s coverage of the vigils and funerals.

But this time, there’s something new: images of resistance.

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are stepping up and demanding action from the country’s elected leaders.

In an impassioned speech, senior Emma Gonzalez chastised lawmakers, stating, “We are up here standing together because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.”

This, in the end, may prove to be more effective than any images of bloodshed or grief. Fanning across the news outlets and social media networks, these images of resistance seem to be spurring action, with school walkouts and nationwide protests against gun violence in the works.

Illustrations of protest, courage and resilience – from high school students, no less – might have the power to sink in.

The ConversationPerhaps it will be these images – not those of bloodied victims – that will stir people from complacency and move them to action.

Nicole Smith Dahmen, Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

 

 

On Transgender Day of Remembrance

John Kerry
Secretary of State
November 20, 2016

Washington, DC – On Transgender Day of Remembrance, the United States solemnly honors the memory of the many transgender individuals who lost their lives to senseless acts of violence.

Transgender persons around the world are targeted by rising levels of violence fueled by hatred and bigotry. This is a global challenge and we all must do more to protect transgender persons on the basis of equality and dignity.

In the United States, our Constitution enshrines freedoms of peaceful assembly, speech and association, and it affirms that everyone has equal protection under the law. Around the world human rights and fundamental freedoms are recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that every person is born free and equal in dignity and rights. Every person includes transgender women, transgender men, and other individuals who face marginalization on account of their gender expression or gender identity.

Today we stand in solidarity with the incredible resilience and leadership of the transgender community in responding to stigma and marginalization. Transgender persons deepen our diversity, broaden our communities, and strengthen the values we cherish. When all persons reach their full human potential, free from fear, intimidation, and violence, nations become more just, secure and prosperous.

The United States remains committed to advance the human rights of all persons, including transgender persons. On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, we reaffirm equality for all as part of our core constitutional principles and as a human rights priority of U.S. diplomacy.

Upcoming BHSU Geek Speak to Address Violence Against Native Women in North America -CANCELED

THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELED….

By Sheryl Holman
November 7, 2016

SPEARFISH…The Black Hills State University Geek Speak lecture Thursday, Nov. 10 will discuss the historic and cultural reasons behind the prevalence of violence against Native women in the U.S. and Canada.

Dr. Nikki Dragone, assistant professor of English at BHSU, will present “Violence Against Native Women Occurring at Epidemic Rates. What is Being Done?” Thursday, Nov. 10 at 4 p.m. in Jonas Hall, room 110. The event is free and open to the public.

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Dr. Nikki Dragone, assistant professor of English at BHSU. Photo: BHSU

Violence against Native women has been occurring at epidemic rates for well over a hundred years in both Canada and the United States. According to Silver of a Full Moon, a playwright written by Mary Kathryn Nagle, an attorney and citizen of Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, one out three Native women will be raped during their lifetime and 60 percent of Native women will be assaulted in their lifetime in the U.S.

“In the U.S. legal protections for Native women who have been victimized physically and/or sexually were few and far between until the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was renewed in 2013,” says Dragone.

VAWA restored the authority of tribal governments to prosecute non-Native abusers who assault and abuse Native women on tribal lands. While VAWA offers some protections, violent acts like rape and sexual assault are still not covered, according to Dragone.

Furthermore, according to Dragone, twenty-three percent of violent crimes against Native women by Native men can be linked to inter-generational trauma resulting from the effects of oppression, including the boarding school system.

Dragone hopes to foster a discussion of what has been done in both the U.S. and Canada to protect Native women and what still needs to be done.

The Geek Speak lecture series, sponsored by the BHSU University Honors program, features academic discussion and topics not normally discussed in the traditional classroom. The goal of the weekly lectures is to expose students to diversity within the disciplines.

For more information, contact Dr. Courtney Huse Wika, director of the University Honors Program and assistant professor of English, at 605-642-6918 or email Courtney.HuseWika@BHSU.edu.

In addition to the on-campus presentations, some Geek Speaks will also be presented at the Jacket Zone store in downtown Spearfish. The following on-campus Geek Speak presentations, which are held Thursdays at 4 p.m. in Jonas Hall, room 110, are scheduled for this semester:

● Nov. 17, “Supersymmetry, Superstrings and the quest for the Theory Of Everything,” Dr. Parthasarathi Nag, professor of math

● Dec. 1, The University Honors Student Capstone Defense

President Obama’s Open Letter to America’s Law Enforcement Community

To the brave members of our Nation’s law enforcement community:

Every day, you confront danger so it does not find our families, carry burdens so they do not fall to us, and courageously meet test after test to keep us safe. Like Dallas officer Lorne Ahrens, who bought dinner for a homeless man the night before he died, you perform good deeds beyond the call of duty and out of the spotlight. Time and again, you make the split-second decisions that could mean life or death for you and many others in harm’s way. You endure the tense minutes and long hours over lifetimes of service.

Every day, you accept this responsibility and you see your colleagues do their difficult, dangerous jobs with equal valor. I want you to know that the American people see it, too. We recognize it, we respect it, we appreciate it, and we depend on you. And just as your tight-knit law enforcement family feels the recent losses to your core, our Nation grieves alongside you. Any attack on police is an unjustified attack on all of us.

I’ve spent a lot of time with law enforcement over the past couple of weeks. I know that you take each of these tragedies personally, and that each is as devastating as a loss in the family. Sunday’s shooting in Baton Rouge was no different. Together, we mourn Montrell Jackson, Matthew Gerald, and Brad Garafola. Each was a husband. Each was a father. Each was a proud member of his community. And each fallen officer is one too many. Last week, I met with the families of the Dallas officers who were killed, and I called the families of those who were killed in the line of duty yesterday in Baton Rouge. I let them know how deeply we ache for the loss of their loved ones.

Some are trying to use this moment to divide police and the communities you serve. I reject those efforts, for they do not reflect the reality of our Nation. Officer Jackson knew this too, when just days ago he asked us to keep hatred from our hearts. Instead, he offered—to protestors and fellow police officers alike—a hug to anyone who saw him on the street. He offered himself as a fellow worshipper to anyone who sought to pray. Today, we offer our comfort and our prayers to his family, to the Geralds and the Garafolas, and to the tight-knit Baton Rouge law enforcement community.

As you continue to serve us in this tumultuous hour, we again recognize that we can no longer ask you to solve issues we refuse to address as a society. We should give you the resources you need to do your job, including our full-throated support. We must give you the tools you need to build and strengthen the bonds of trust with those you serve, and our best efforts to address the underlying challenges that contribute to crime and unrest.

As you continue to defend us with quiet dignity, we proclaim loudly our appreciation for the acts of service you perform as part of your daily routine. When you see civilians at risk, you don’t see them as strangers. You see them as your own family, and you lay your life on the line for them. You put others’ safety before your own, and you remind us that loving our country means loving one another. Even when some protest you, you protect them. What is more professional than that? What is more patriotic? What is a prouder example of our most basic freedoms—to speech, to assembly, to life, and to liberty? And at the end of the day, you have a right to go home to your family, just like anybody else.

Robert Kennedy, once our Nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, lamented in the wake of unjust violence a country in which we look at our neighbors as people “with whom we share a city, but not a community.” This is a time for us to reaffirm that what makes us special is that we are not only a country, but also a community. That is true whether you are black or white, whether you are rich or poor, whether you are a police officer or someone they protect and serve.

With that understanding—an understanding of the goodness and decency I have seen of our Nation not only in the past few weeks, but throughout my life—we will get through this difficult time together.

We will do it with the love and empathy of public servants like those we have lost in recent days. We will do it with the resilience of cities like Dallas that quickly came together to restore order and deepen unity and understanding. We will do it with the grace of loved ones who even in their grief have spoken out against vengeance toward police. We will do it with the good will of activists like those I have sat with in recent days, who have pledged to work together to reduce violence even as they voice their disappointments and fears.

As we bind up our wounds, we must come together to ensure that those who try to divide us do not succeed. We are at our best when we recognize our common humanity, set an example for our children of trust and responsibility, and honor the sacrifices of our bravest by coming together to be better.

Thank you for your courageous service. We have your backs.
Sincerely,
Barack Obama