By: Ed Zintel
Thankfully, it’s not often that a tragedy reported in the news hits directly home.
But that was the case in late May when I saw the morning headline in the Los Angeles Times that a deadly shooting had taken place near the University of California, Santa Barbara—where my daughter attends school—the night before. I immediately turned on my cell phone and saw, to my great relief, a text message from Jackie that she was all right and safe from harm’s way. She had wisely decided to stay on campus that Friday night when a deranged young man, Elliot Rodger, decided to drive through neighboring Isla Vista and open gunfire on students in the area. He would kill six students in all before killing himself by gunshot.
The usual media barrage descended on the beautiful, seaside UCSB campus that weekend, setting up camp in Isla Vista, and staying there for several days to report every piece of news it could come up with.
By the following Tuesday, when a memorial service was held for the victims at the campus stadium, many of the students were fed up with the media onslaught onto their otherwise tranquil university, many claiming that the attention the media was giving Rodger was robbing them of their opportunity to mourn the victims. Too, students and the surrounding community felt that the media was feeding directly into the gunman’s desire for world attention.
We can blame social media for that. In the days leading up to the shootings, Rodger had posted several dark and morbid YouTube videos in which he described not only his depressed feelings of having been rejected by all the women he was attracted to in the Isla Vista area, but exactly how he planned to exact revenge against all those who discarded him by killing them. Most of the videos were posted just hours before the slayings, so, by all accounts it was too late for authorities to intervene and stop the tragedy.
Still, the YouTube videos went viral and continued to do so for days after the memorial. Naturally, the media followed with around-the-clock analyzing of the videos. UCSB student Matt Moore told the L.A. Times immediately after the memorial: “It makes me sick seeing those videos over and over again. …By continuously showing the videos and stuff, you’re putting the limelight on him and not the people he killed. …”
As far as coverage of the events by the two UCSB student-produced newspapers, there was a real dichotomy. The Daily Nexus, the independent student-run newspaper, posted its first story about the mass murders one hour after the first law enforcement report of shots being fired and continued its coverage thoroughly and daily for several days after. Meanwhile, The Bottom Line, the school’s student government-associated newspaper funded by student fees, chose not to cover the story at all until two days later when it published an op-ed titled, “Why We Have Not Yet Published Anything on the Isla Vista Shooting.” The op-ed said it held off on covering the rampage in order “to minimize the emotional harm for our reporters, photographers and multimedia journalists.” The next day, The Bottom Line published a story on the events, though its coverage after that was far less than that of The Daily Nexus.
I think that while the sentiments of The Bottom Line in its op-ed are certainly understandable, the newspaper was wrong to initially ignore the news. A newspaper has a responsibility to its readers to report all of the news—good and bad—even when it hits home.