Research suggests media should adjust coverage of shootings

Nicole Dahmen

Mass shootings in the United States are, unfortunately, extremely common; one study estimates 173 in 2017 alone. And with mass shootings comes media coverage. But how should the media cover them?

It’s a question with no easy answer, but UO School of Journalism and Communication professor Nicole Dahmen, along with three other media studies scholars, tried to figure it out with a survey of more than 1,300 journalists.

The results showed that while journalists generally thought the majority of media was doing a good job of coverage, some concerns remained over whether giving exposure to the shooter could inspire copycat cases, similar to the idea that too much coverage of a suicide could lead to an increase in suicides.

“Recognizing a copycat suicide effect, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends avoiding the following in news coverage of suicides: simplistic explanations; repetitive, ongoing or excessive reporting; sensational coverage; ‘how-to’ descriptions; glorifications; and a focus on community expressions of grief,” Dahmen said.

“Instead, the CDC recommends that news coverage focus on help and support available in the community, tips and information about how to identify people who are at risk and about risk factors,” she said. “The adoption of these practices in covering mass shootings may help reduce the risk of a copycat effect.”

For more, see “Study seeks 1,300 journalists’ opinions on improving coverage of mass shootings,” the article Dahmen wrote for the International Journalists’ Network.

Dahmen is a professor of visual communication at the UO, specializing in graphic design and visual ethics. Her research focuses on ethical and technological issues in visual communication, emphasizing photojournalism in the digital age.