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New Approaches for Gun Violence Reporting in Philadelphia

At the Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting‘s Better Gun Violence Reporting workshop last week, reporters looked for different ways local newsrooms can approach coverage of gun violence, Billy Penn reports. Advocates and anti-violence researchers collaborated with reporters and radio stations at Germantown's Wyck House for a day of deliberation. Moderated by Philadelphia magazine editor-at-large Ernest Owens, the day began with discussions on journalism and trauma, plus words from PCGVR’s Maxayn Gooden and Oronde McClain about how the reporting process can isolate survivors and co-survivors of gun violence. Attendees were challenged to prototype a solution to improve gun violence reporting. The ultimate goal: interventions small and large that would center communities, build trust, and — eventually — end the crime beat completely.


The workshop highlighted two key issues perpetuated by gun coverage in the media. The first was the use of snappy coverage at the scene. The now-common Eyewitness News and Action News formats originated in Philadelphia, with coverage of shootings straight from the scene that boosted ratings and incentivized stations to lead broadcasts with crime. The effects desensitize both reporters and viewers to the systemic causes of gun violence such as high poverty rates, a history of neighborhood disinvestment, and a lack of gainful employment opportunities. The second issue addressed how media reporting affects victims. Reporting from the scene of a shooting has the ability to retraumatize victims and co-victims, forcing them into public view just as they’re processing pain and loss. Both McClain and Gooden said a reporter’s need for immediacy can remove empathy from the interview process. Other ideas from the workshop included an encrypted messaging service and an event calendar where block captains could share news tips and community events for reporters looking to build connections in a new neighborhood. Another proposal included a website where readers could rate reporters on coverage of gun violence; crowdsourced resource guides; and trauma-informed trainings. “Our reporting can help or heal communities,” Morton-Thompson said. “To be a part of the solution, we have to change our incentives … to reward equipping those most impacted by gun violence with what they need to live their lives safely.”

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