Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Oprah today - contrasting views regarding VT tragedy

Today Oprah covered the Virginia Tech tragedy with Lisa Ling as her Blacksburg, VA correspondent. Via satellite, Oprah interviewed a psychologist who criticized the English teacher who reported problems about the shooter but did not persist on a personal level to get him help or into the hands of authorities. The psychologist said that the English teacher had followed the "letter of the law" but not the "essence of the law", which would have compelled her to not stop acting on her fears about the disturbed student. I thought this was interesting because the English teacher has been getting a lot of press about how she tried and tried to get someone else to do something about the student. She was on CNN, WGN radio and Oprah, at least. The psychologist kind of scolded the teacher's inaction and simultaneously empowered viewers to act on their feelings. This was pretty refreshing amidst all the helplessness we are feeling about possible future incidents as gun control and campus security remain abyssmal.

Another thing the psychologist said was that Oprah and the media can do their part by not letting the issue rest - by revisiting the fact that we are empowered to act to stop individuals who we know are dangerous. She said that the media should not stop coming back to this issue. I'd say the media is doing a pretty good job of this so far.

The counterpoint to the psychologist was a Columbine survivor whose sister was killed and who lectures around the country about school violence and the need to assimilate isolated students. He said there are kids out there who idolized the Columbine killers. He brought up the fact that their pictures were on the cover of Time. I just saw this cover while I was doing my case study last weekend:,16641,19990503,00.html. It is wrong that their pictures are so much larger than those of the people who died.

This kid said that the media is making such a huge deal about this being the largest massacre ever, and he said, "Records are made to be broken." I think surely there are sick kids out there who might think, "I could kill more than 32; that's my goal."

How can we cover this issue as much as we need to while not heaping mystique or glamour upon a massacre?


At Wednesday, April 18, 2007, Blogger KY said...

News analysis is also news worthy, I think. So covering topics that delve into "What it all means?" -- even if it is a tragedy of this caliber, could provide answers that people are looking for. Just as long as we don't give more publicity to the killer - that is not newsworthy; it just makes me more angry to see his face splashed across media.

Creating a balance between coverage and privacy is a perpetual dilemma. I don't know how I feel about current coverage - perhaps by next week.

At Thursday, April 19, 2007, Blogger HAW said...

I really liked Oprah's approach to the coverage. The entire show was very victim-centric and went in-depth into the feelings of the students. What I liked about this approach was it wasn't all breaking news but more featurized stories of individuals.

I also like the way she approached her show today. She had been planning to do improv live with the cast of NBC's "Thank God You're Here" and despite the VT story she still did the improv show. She acknowledged the VT situation and explained to the audience that she and her producers had been planning the improv show for awhile and until new developments came up in the VT story, they were going to continue with their planned programming. I thought the was very tactful and made sense. She was very respectful of the VT story and made it clear that she would continue to report on it, but not if there was nothing new to say-- which is exactly what I want to see in media coverage.

At Friday, April 20, 2007, Blogger mm said...

I completely agree with AM. We are glorifying the evil deeds of a deranged young man. Despite the media's "it's our duty" defense, I think the nation is largely disgusted by the way the media handled Cho's multimedia manifesto. I'm no psychologist, but I'll bet there are a few social outcasts who would literally kill to have the global attention Cho received this week. As journalists, we must remember that we're not spreading information in a vacuum. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. We shouldn't muzzle ourselves in fear, but we do have a duty to think about how our decisions affect the people on the other side of the TV monitor.


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