The Media Paradox: School Shootings

School shootings are always frightening, overwhelming instances. Many will associate Columbine with that fateful spring day in 1999. School shootings, be it at a high school or post-secondary level, tend to occur in recent memory at an inexplicable rate not only in North America, but also around the world. Take the recent shooting at a Finnish college this past week, for example, which was preceded by a shooting a year prior that left nine dead in its wake. Nine students and a teacher lost their lives before the suspect turned the gun on himself.  It is a common thread that is becoming more pervasive in headlines. It is arguably part of this reason why confused, scared what-have-you individuals open fire on innocent students. It garners media attention, and lots of it.

After the suspect opened fire, news barons around the globe – BBC, New York Times, Finnish broadcasting company YLE – carried the story with the named suspect.  But, I contend, because notoriety is quickly gained after the death toll is collected, an aspect of these killings is partly perpetrated because their name is instantly spread across the planet. Why does the media print the individual’s name? Does it help sell copies? Unlikely. This individuals name will go down in history books or at least get a Wikipedia page. When the Virginia Tech Massacre occurred last spring and 32 people were killed in one of the most deadliest school shootings in American history, books were written, the Internet was buzzing and the crazed student’s name was afloat around the world. Not only was that instance fodder for media organizations for quite some time, videos were captured of the shootings via camera phones and the murderer actually sent a “manifesto” to the NBC halfway through his killing spree. Why? Because he knew that it would be played and his “reasons” would then be disseminated across TV screens.

We can also look to another shooting that accumulated wide media play: the Northern Illinois University shooting, which occurred this past February. The media ran numerous stories about how the young killer didn’t “fit” the profile of a mass murderer and looked in deeper to his life and what his friends thought of him. Do we not see what is going on here? Giving him a macabre spotlight, the media is not celebrating the innocent lives of those who were tragically gunned down, but are giving attention to the murderer. For instance, you might know the name of the misogynist cretin that killed 14 innocent women at École Polytechnique in 1989, or the two kids at Columbine or the notorious introvert at Virginia Tech – but what about the students that lost their lives in all of these heinous crimes? Why are they not in the media’s spotlight being remembered?

The media is throwing mass murderers names throughout the Infobahn giving them instant infamy, while simultaneously showing other ill-tempered individuals a way to launch their once-anonymous names into the headlines – at least for a day. For example, both of the Finnish killers, 18 and 22 respectively, put videos on YouTube and were both “fascinated” by the Columbine school shootings.

Granted it is the media’s job to cover the stories – the positive and negative – from around the world, but by doing so in specific cases, is the media to blame for its timely manner of hoisting a murderer’s name, especially so during the days of the blogosphere?

With the digital age, the notoriety grows stronger, wider. Pictures of the Finnish student have surfaced on media sites wielding a handgun. The individual, moreover, is known to have put various videos of himself firing weapons and muttering morbid utterances, like “You will die next” on YouTube. It’s an age where individuals that want to go out with a bang, can do so, with the world watching as they murder ceaselessly. The question is, who is in control here? The media-savvy young killers or the media?

If it bleeds it leads apparently still holds precedence in the media.

-R.

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    • September 28th, 2008

    Well put. It reminds me of the second greyhound bus stabbing that happened a couple of weeks back. Odd isn’t it? Before that young man was decapitated on a greyhound in August, nothing like that had ever happened before and then a couple of months later, someone is attacked on a greyhound bus again. It sickens me how the media blows up every image of the killer but misses the point that THATS part of what they want…attention. It’s mindblowing.

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