Apr 24, 2007

Exploitation of mourning

by Claire Melsi, Opinion Reporter
Like a dark and devastating nightmare, the mass-murder occurred at Virginia Tech on April 16. Students and families of Blacksburg residents, citizens of America and the global community watched in horror as the number of verified fatalities steadily swelled throughout the day. People were overcome by the tear-jerking photographs of policeman crouched behind trees, shots being fired from an upper level window and the beautiful faces of those who lost their lives on that fateful day.

An international community was formed as people everywhere sat glued to their televisions sets as the death count was raised through out the day, hoping and praying that the number would somehow magically decrease, that someone, somewhere along the line, must have gotten the numbers wrong. Shock struck everywhere as onlookers struggled to wrap their minds around the significance of what was occurring.

Access to the goings-on at the University was available to anyone in reach of a television, radio, newspaper, telephone or computer with Internet access. Personal images of students crying, praying, and embracing were visible to those outside of the tight-knit University family. Emotion oozed from the pores of the television screen and into the atmosphere family rooms everywhere. Such private, heartfelt moments on such public display struck an emotional chord but also created a sense of sympathy for the mourners who had no other option.
As a journalism student, I have been taught for three years now how important it is to be the eyes and ears of viewers. Along with instruction as to how to capture the essence of the story and how to show rather than tell, the discussion of ethical and compassionate journalism has come up more than once. Conversation about the kind of moral reporting which portrays events without overstepping boundaries of respect and dignity is far from uncommon.
When it came to the coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings, the overwhelming media intrusion made it quite clear there had been a loss of that essential balance. Having heard many first hand accounts from fellow students who were on the scene that dreadful day, it appears that much of Virginia Tech’s student body and faculty were resentful towards what they considered to be exploitation for high ratings and professional advancement.

Now is a time to reflect upon and honor those who passed away in this horrendous act, not one to take advantage of those so overwhelmed with grief that they are nearly incapable of giving a comprehensible response to questions about what has occurred.
The last thing that these emotionally devastated families need is media crews hounding them for exclusive interviews and phone conferences about the “security breech.” Over time, people will speak out and safety issues will need to be addressed, but within such a short time period prying into the desperate emotions of people personally affected by the tragedy is not only disrespectful to them, but to those for whom they mourn.
Although right now it is the responsibility of the media to give an accurate and honest account of what has happened, a balance must be drawn. Making an emotional connection with one’s audience is about more than shoving a microphone in the middle of a huddle to capture the sniffles and tears of a group of praying students. It’s about more than approaching a sobbing girl with her head in her hands, raw with feelings, for an on the spot-interview.

The emotional connection is established through respectful and dignified coverage of the current event and reaction. After more than one or two polite attempts at prompting an interview, the nonstop hounding of the media has becomes inappropriate in situations as such.
The constant media attention only prolongs the horrific nightmare that has become a reality for the family and friends of the victims.

Journalists and photographers who act with such little couth are a disgrace to the profession of journalism. No job title warrants the right to exploit such conditions. Noble journalism works towards the betterment of society, not the decline of morality and journalistic integrity.

Contact Claire Melsi at cvmelsi@liberty.edu.


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