Editorial: Attention media: stop sensationalizing facts

September 7, 2015

Every journalist struggles with the question of how to balance reporting the news and causing potential harm. This is an understandable dilemma, but the news media has disregarded the ethic of causing no harm with the shooting of two journalists during a live broadcast.

The media has an obligation to ensure that the public is informed about the shooting, but there is a definite line that can be drawn between fulfilling that obligation and sensationalizing the journalists’ deaths.

Several news outlets printed stills from the video of the shooting and exaggerated headlines along with their coverage of the story. This can only be called yellow journalism, where the news is reported to sensationalize, not inform.

This trend can be seen in any story that has the potential to be exploited. With every occurrence of violence that gets traction in the news cycle, more time is devoted to showcasing the criminal than the victims or the crime. When this is done, the news media provides a platform for hate. This is not journalism.

Social media brings a unique

dynamic to this problem. While social media has brought the news to a great number of people who probably wouldn’t have been exposed to it before, it also adds an extra avenue for hate to be broadcast.

This is what happened on Facebook and Twitter with the shooting of Alison Parker and Adam Ward. Vester Lee Flanigan II, the gunman, posted a video of the shooting he filmed himself to his Facebook and Twitter accounts. With every retweet and every share, users were shown the shooting due to the autoplay feature of these platforms.

For many people, viewing this was unnecessary and unwanted. To the benefit of Facebook and Twitter, Flanigan’s accounts were promptly removed, deleting the video that was shared from his profiles. However, it still brings up the issue of having so much detail being so present.

More importantly, though, the coverage of this shooting raises the broader question of how we discuss the issues of the day. Should we withhold certain details, knowing that it means less comprehensive news, or should we display everything, knowing that it will be sensationalized?

This is an age old debate that can’t be answered in a 500 word editorial.

What can be said, though, is that care should be taken to avoid inflaming an issue, be it from the withholding of facts or the sensationalizing of a story. This is the line that separates good and bad journalists.

The Maroon is not immune from this criticism. We have been accused of sensationalizing an issue that should have been discussed in a more responsible way. As the voice of Loyola, we bear the responsibility to discuss topics with absolute deference to facts, and failing to do that is harmful to the Loyola community.

We don’t take that obligation lightly, which is why we make constant attempts to avoid error. Sometimes we do err, but we use that as an opportunity to learn and improve.

The job of a journalist isn’t to get high viewership or more page views. A journalist is supposed to report the truth of an issue, however dull it might be. When faced with this dilemma, the journalist has to choose fact over glamor.

Every journalist — professional, citizen or aspiring — should strive to remove sensationalism from their reporting. If that means not using provocative phrasing or sharing a disturbing video, that is what should be done.

The editorial represents the majority opinions of The Maroon’s editorial board and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Loyola University. 

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