Why Some Shootings Get National Attention & Some … Don’t: Further Studies in the Journalistic Passive Voice

It’s exactly why you’d think:

Why, exactly, do mall and school shootings attract such intense media scrutiny? Is it justified?

Kelly McBride, an ethicist at the Poynter Institute, believes several factors combine to put the national media spotlight on events like the Columbia shooting. One is that such public shootings tend to occur less frequently than the seemingly routine urban violence throughout the country. Another is that most mall and school shootings get reported in real time, while domestic and drug killings are often over by the time they are reported.

And with breaking news involving violence, McBride said, “there’s a business imperative to it, because you know the audience is going to follow that story.”

Seemingly routine. Emphasis mine.

Matt Zapotosky, a reporter who has been covering the aftermath of the Columbia shooting for The Post, said a double murder in nearby Prince George’s County would draw 12 inches in the newspaper when he was on the police beat there — perhaps because the county had as many as 100 homicides a year.

“There is a difference,” Zapotosky said. “In those cases, they don’t resonate with people enough, because they think, ‘It couldn’t happen to me. I’m not in the drug trade. I’m not in a gang. I’m not involved in the things these people are involved in.'”

This girl was clearly involved in the drug trade.

White and Zapotosky said they felt it was important to write about the shattered sense of safety resulting from a shooting in a public place.

“There are domestic shootings that are really awful. There are shootings on city streets that are really awful. Frankly, all of them are awful,” Zapotosky said. “They just don’t resonate with our readers like something like this does.”

People who live in neighborhoods where violence is a daily fact of life clearly don’t have a shattered sense of safety. They likely have no sense of safety at all.

Which is probably just routine.

They’ve got their justifications locked and loaded before the question’s even asked. You’d think after years and years of suburban, school and mall shootings, not to mention the hot new trend of shooting up movie theaters, those shootings would become “routine” as well, but somehow they’re “unusual” and “resonate” with “our readers.” All by themselves, they’re these things.

The coverage deems them outliers. The coverage says so. The coverage comes right out and declares that THIS is something to get upset about, and then blames readers’ levels of upset for the coverage. The coverage declares something routine, then blames its routine-ness for the lackluster coverage. This isn’t exactly a risky position. Read a few papers, watch a couple hours of local news, you get the idea. Everybody does it. Your industry peers will nod their heads, you say stuff like this. I mean, what can you do, right?

I’ll tell you what you can do. Just come right out and say it: Scaredy-cat middle-class people, if they thought the shopping mall was no longer safe, would LOSE THEY DAMN MINDS. Therefore, every mall shooting is treated as an aberrant horror, with this “shattered sense of safety” bullshit, so that we can continue to perpetuate the absolutely wrong idea that in a nation of gun-crazy loonballs at least the Forever 21 is sacred ground.

Same goes for all the schools everybody moved to the suburbs to get their kids into. If that no longer works to keep your kids safe and make them successful, the earth will absolutely cave in. It’s one of those assumptions so basic our entire economy rests on it, so it can’t be undermined.

Shootings that happen in these places have to be exceptions. They can’t be the rule, no matter how many times they happen, because if we start actually thinking that what happens every day in what Paul Ryan recently so charmingly termed “the inner city” could happen to the wealthy and white, the wealthy and white could not breathe. Certainly they could not continue living the lives they live, in which bad things happen elsewhere and the only thing standing between America and its destruction is a sale at the gun store.


3 thoughts on “Why Some Shootings Get National Attention & Some … Don’t: Further Studies in the Journalistic Passive Voice

  1. I usually agree with what you have to say, but there is one difference: when the police come by to question bystanders in the mall and school shootings, people talk.
    When the police come by in certain neighborhoods in my town after shootings, even if the shooting was in broad daylight, nobody can ever remember a thing.

  2. Diana, because in those neighborhoods the police can’t protect them, and they know it. And so do the police.

    It seems like a lot of people saw Smith kill Brown when a bar fight spilled onto Cermak, Brown’s sister Darcita said.
    But no one — not even Brown’s closest friends — would snitch on the shooter.
    Why? Well, K-town is a small place.
    “It’s easy for shooters to get away. No one will talk. Shooters know everybody. Even if they catch a shooter all the other people behind them make sure other people don’t talk,” Darcita Brown said. “From Kolin to Kildare and all the other streets between, it’s street code. That’s what people live by.”


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