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News Organization Dilemma: Which Mass Shootings To Cover?

News organizations are facing a difficult challenge in a year that has already seen more than 320 mass shootings across the U.S.: deciding which atrocities warrant on-the-ground coverage. “There have been too many nights like this. Too many nights when I’ve stood at crime scenes like this,” said NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt from Highland Park, Il., after an attack at a Fourth of July parade killed seven and wounded dozens. Holt was providing on-the-ground coverage of the deadliest of 14 mass shootings over the holiday weekend, according to the Gun Violence Archive. At least 62 people were shot and 10 killed in Chicago alone, the Washington Post reports. “There is no checklist, per se, as to whether we go or don’t go,” Holt said later. When news alerts about the Highland Park shooting interrupted his holiday, “the circumstances alone — a suburban July Fourth parade — immediately signaled this would be a major story. As the news unfolded, it became clear we needed to be on the ground.” Many journalists prioritize shootings based partly on death tolls, partly on a subjective sense of horror and shock. Most do not receive significant national coverage.

Reporters went en masse to Buffalo when 10 were killed at a grocery store in May, and then to Uvalde, Tx., when 21 were killed at a school less than two weeks later. A June 4 shooting that killed three and injured a dozen in Philadelphia’s entertainment district received significantly less attention from the national press, as did an attack that left three dead and many injured at a Chattanooga nightclub the next day. Amanda Erickson, a Post editor, said, “Unfortunately, there are just so many shootings around the country that we have to be smart about using our resources "We can’t tell every story. All shootings affect a community, but we look for the impact on a community and beyond it.” NPR editor Vickie Walton-James said shooting stories that rise to the level of national attention are usually attacks “targeting people in places where people expect to be safe,” such as a school or a church, or targeting people of a specific race or religion. ABC News said a team of correspondents and producers will remain in Uvalde for the next year to “provide ongoing coverage as the investigation continues and the community tries to heal.” CNN is establishing a “Guns in America” beat.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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