As 20th-century global conflicts and new forms of mass communication created new types of war reportage, rising mass firearm murders in the 21st century and the immediacy of the internet have spawned another journalistic genre.
It, too, requires reporters to navigate scenes of violence and chaos, interview victims suffering from terror and trauma, and document what they’ve witnessed in all its agony and horror.
You might call practitioners “mass shooting correspondents," writes Greg Sargent in the Washington Post.
Some of these reporters have covered multiple mass shootings. Journalists are increasingly experienced at dealing with them, a measure of how routine these shootings have become.
Just after a gunman killed six people at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Va., last week, Michelle Wolf, a reporter for WAVY-TV News, got word over a police scanner of an active shooter. The station had sent multiple crews to cover another mass shooting in Charlottesville only 10 days earlier.
Reporters must balance the terror of the moment against the need to inform the public in the midst of a dangerous, fast-moving situation, Wolf said. “My job at that point is not to think about how I’m feeling,” she said. “It’s to get information out there that’s important.”
After a man with an AR-15 killed five people in an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs a week ago, Ashley Michels, a reporter at a Denver TV station, offered some grimly revealing testimony.
“Unfortunately, I have covered mass shootings multiple times in my career,” Michels tweeted. She posted examples of vitriolic messages she received for covering that mass killing, adding, “This is the first time I can recall getting message after message from viewers like this.”
This year alone has seen more than 600 mass shootings in the U.S. Many reporters have a deep working knowledge of how to cover them, and some have tried to grow and develop their craft along with the experience.
Michael Schudson, a historian of journalism at Columbia University, says war correspondence as a calling really developed in the 20th century. The two world wars, followed by major conflicts in places such as Vietnam, coincided with the growth in mass media, and TV elevated war correspondents into widely recognized cultural figures.
Mass shootings are widely covered on TV as well as social media. While shootings differ from wars and while reporters covering shootings don’t define themselves by this coverage as war correspondents do, the parallels are unmistakable.
“The experience of reporters coming upon those horrific scenes must be searing, in the same way it is for war correspondents,” said Schudson, citing “the bodies on the floor, the crying and the suffering.”