The Trace Plans Guidelines for ‘Responsible Reporting’ on Mass Shooters

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Shooter at a gun club. Photo by Peretz Partensky via flickr

The news media should change the way it covers mass shootings or “we risk further contributing to the uniquely American crisis of mass killings,” says The Trace. 

The website contends that, “Research increasingly tells us that our coverage of mass shootings has implications for public health. Shooters crave attention and infamy; several modern killers have idolized and sought out information about those who came before them.”

In partnership with the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, The Trace says it plans to develop a set of guidelines for responsible reporting on mass shooters and their motives.

“Once we release those guidelines, we will urge news organizations to publicly ratify them, formalizing a set of industry best practices,” The Trace says.

The website says it expects to recommend against naming perpetrators “except in rare circumstances. The same goes for the publication of photographs, videos, and audio of shooters, as well as any materials produced by them.”

The Trace declares that, “Media organizations ought to stop and consider in the post-mass shooting news rush what their stories should focus on, and bear in mind whom those stories serve. The idea isn’t to stifle coverage, but to ensure that as an industry we are being responsible in the work that we produce under extreme circumstances.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump, who has vowed to push Congress to pass legislation in response to massacres this month in Texas and Ohio, on Thursday promoted the views of a criminologist who argued this week that there is no evidence that the U.S. is experiencing an “epidemic” of mass shootings, the Washington Post reports.

On Twitter, Trump shared a message that linked to an interview with Northeastern University criminologist and occasional Crime Report contributor James Alan Fox, who shared his views in a podcast broadcast by the libertarian publication Reason.

Fox said that although the number of mass shootings has risen in recent years, there are too few to draw a clear trend line. He blamed the media for creating unnecessary panic. “There is no evidence that we are in the midst of an epidemic of mass shootings,” Fox said.

After the mass shootings this month in El Paso and Dayton, Trump vowed to push Republicans to embrace legislation that would strengthen background checks for gun buyers and persuade the National Rifle Association to drop its long-standing opposition to such measures. He continued to express support for stronger background checks when speaking to reporters on Tuesday in New Jersey.

Additional Reading: How to Cover the Vast, Scattered Population of  Gun Violence Survivors, Columbia Journalism Review, Aug. 15, 2019

Take More Care in Reporting Mass Shootings, Journalists Told, The Crime Report, March 13, 2019

 Criminologist Cites Paper for ‘Outrageous’ Story on Shooter, The Crime Report, Aug. 28, 2018

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