Editors note: This story was originally published in 2017.
Mental health experts are still trying to determine how media coverage of mass shooting events can contribute to a contagion effect. Journalists can make choices around the coverage that will minimize the impact.
Here are some best practices:
Name the shooter infrequently and only when his name is critical to helping your audience understand what happened.
As more information becomes available, be careful to be accurate and contextual. Small details can take on inappropriate levels of importance in the early reporting stages. Those details can be harmful to the truth if they are inaccurate or out of context.
Avoid speculating about mental illness or allowing unqualified sources to speculate about mental illness. Witnesses, law enforcement and politicians usually know very little about the topic in general, are likely to know even less about the role of mental illness in this tragedy.
Avoid images of the shooter that could be seen as glorifying him by others who might be inclined to other acts of violence.
Superlatives, like “the deadliest mass shooting ever,” could possibly lead to contagion. Avoid using them in teasers, tweets and other formats where context is absent. Instead, use them in reporting formats where you can bring more context, such as interviews, the text of stories and produced packages.
See these recommendations for more information on the best practices for journalists covering mass shootings.
Dan Reidenberg and I are hosting a webinar on these recommendations later in May. You can register for it here, on our NewsU site.
Related Training: How to Cover Big News As It Breaks