Collected guidance on reporting mass shootings

Above: The father of one mass shooting victim says the news coverage that followed it “focused on all the wrong things.” Tom Teves and his wife Caren also founded No Notoriety, calling for media coverage that deprives shooters of attention.

While mass shootings have increased dramatically during the past decade in the U.S., a movement including government, university, suicide prevention and media industry experts has emerged to express their concern with news reporting practices.

Some collaborated to produce Recommendations for Reporting on Mass Shootings, advising journalists to: “remember that families, including those of the perpetrator, are deeply affected and traumatized by the incident. Be sensitive when conducting interviews.”

The Violence Project says: “Mass shooters have many grievances, but shootings motivated by hate and fame-seeking have increased since 2015.”

The Don’t Name Them campaign says: “Let’s not glorify the attacker by giving them valuable airtime. Don’t share their manifestos, their letters, their Facebook posts.”

In an open letter, 149 scholars, professors and law enforcement professionals strongly urged the news media in 2017 to “take a principled stand in future coverage of mass killers that could potentially save lives.” Guidance:

  1. Don’t name the perpetrator.
  2. Don’t use photos or likenesses of the perpetrator.
  3. Stop using the names, photos, or likenesses of past perpetrators.
  4. Report everything else about these crimes in as much detail as desired.

More research: Fame-Seeking Shooters, Media Coverage, and Copycat Effects.

Research from our own team has also challenged traditional reporting practices, concluding that incident coverage can be harmful, that traditionally defined mass shootings do not place a unique burden on the health care systems and that half of shooting victims are never reported in the news.

The Society of Professional Journalists advises members to seek truth and report it but also to “balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort.”