Journalists Just Want to Tell Stories. Today, Some Died for It

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I used to be a reporter at a small daily, community newspaper like the Capital Gazette. We had maybe 14 reporters, and we were like family.

I couldn’t imagine living through a shooting with that family, watching some of them die. Today, I cry with the reporters and staff at the Capital Gazette.

We don’t know the motive behind the crime yet. We don’t know if the alleged shooter was a disgruntled worker, a terrorist (foreign or domestic), or the crazed spouse of an employee. The police did say the suspect mutilated his fingertips to avoid identification, as reported in this article from the Baltimore Sunso that leads me to believe this was planned and malicious (versus a potentially angry worker).

Regardless, I know one thing for sure: journalists just want to tell stories, and today, some died for it.

*** When I was a full-time reporter, this was never a fear of mine. ***

But things have changed, and it breaks my heart. For those who don’t know any reporters personally, let me explain a few things:

  • Most reporters are completely non-violent people and just want to find the truth.
  • Most reporters are empathetic storytellers who want to give a voice to the voiceless.
  • Most reporters believe in nothing more than freedom of speech and the press–more than politics and more than religion.
  • Most reporters are “crusaders” who believe in the mission of holding those in power accountable, and protecting the innocent.

I once thanked an active-duty Soldier for his service to our country, and he said to me, “Shari, thank YOU for your service. Not enough people say it, but as a journalist, you’re serving too. Thank you.”

I cried.

 

 

How Inflammatory Language Brought Us to the Age of Mass Shootings

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SWAT team members approach a building with a gunman inside. Thirteen people were killed and 30 more wounded in an attack by a lone gunman at Fort Hood Nov. 5, 2009 (courtesy Wikipedia).

First Planned Parenthood, then today: San Bernardino, Calif.

Both are medical clinics. Both are supposed to be safe places … kinda like schools (anyone remember Sandy Hook)?

According to CNN, president Barack Obama said, “We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.”

Regardless of what you think of our president politically, you have to admit: HE’S RIGHT.

How Did We Get Here?

I was in high school when Columbine happened on April 20, 1999. The massacre shocked the world because things like that just didn’t happen. Since then, mass shootings have begun increasing in frequency, until today, they’ve become commonplace.

So how did we get here?

Some say we need more gun control. Others say we need better access to mental health care. Personally, I think it’s a combination of both … but everyone seems to be leaving out one very important factor.

This is a sociological problem, not an individual one, which means a sickness has somehow pervaded our society. 

What’s the one thing that’s changed from 1999 until now? SOCIAL MEDIA.

The Age of Propaganda and Inflammatory Language

Now, I’m not blaming social media. In fact, I’ve worked in it for a living.

However, social media gives people, institutions, political parties and special interests an unfiltered platform to broadcast their thoughts and ideas.

You know those Facebook memes that people love to share that instigate endless political debates on comment threads? They’re developed by groups with certain agendas to garner engagement and prompt action by plugging into people’s emotions.

You know what that’s called? PROPAGANDA.

Hitler used it. Stalin used it. Kim Jong-un still uses it. Propaganda is powerful because it plays into people’s emotions and fears. Even the most educated can become susceptible to it.

In the age of social media and content marketing, propaganda is running rampant in our country. It’s causing the best of us to scream at each other and it’s making our society angry.

As angry individuals, we insult others behind the blanket of “freedom of speech.” We say whatever we want because “we have that right.” We develop a sense of persecution, which leads to an “us versus them” mentality. “Them” always end up less human than “Us.”

How Do We Fix It?

We need to begin using our words responsibly again. I’m a journalist; I’m all about the First Amendment. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. And words can kill.

We also need to hold media outlets, political institutions and special interest pages accountable when using inflammatory language. Don’t watch them. Don’t share their memes. Don’t comment. JUST DON’T ENGAGE.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What are your thoughts on the increasing mass shootings in the U.S.? Do you agree with my conclusion?