This past Friday at lunch here in Santa Monica, California, my wife and I watched with about 20-other customers, nearly every one of them students from the high school next door, the unfolding coverage of the horrific shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. All eyes were on the screen as everyone took bites of their pizza, pasta and salad.
Flash-forward 24-hours later and we’re having lunch Saturday afternoon in another establishment about an hour north of Los Angeles. Out of all the many screens in the restaurant, just one is tuned into the continuing coverage of the massacre. All the screens are usually filled with sports.
As I looked at the screen watching wall-to-wall coverage, I was hit with a interesting thought: What if all the news trucks, satellite trucks, producers and reporters went away — just packed up and went home?
WOULD ANYTHING BE DIFFERENT?
I stopped eating and let that thought sink in.
Is the media adding any real value after Day One of a tragedy?
Now, you have to understand, I’ve been a journalist for nearly 30-years in news, sports, and entertainment. From the tragedy of the TWA-800 crash over Long Island, to Super Bowls, Olympics, every award show you can imagine to sudden deaths of celebrities, a horrific family tragedy where a father tried to hack his family to death with a machete, I’ve seen just about everything. I’ve been the one ON THE SCENE. Sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks.
But in all those years and all those stories, I never thought about what would happen if we just showed up the day of the breaking news, informed the public and then left the next day?
Granted, in stories like Katrina and Sandy, those are different cases. The actual event continues for days.
But what about in Newtown? The tragedy has happened. It’s not an on-going, fluid situation anymore. It’s actually a by-the-book investigation now. Are the press adding anything of value for the residents of Newtown? For the rest of us?
What if this had happened in 1912, 100-years ago? We would have read about it roughly 2-3 days, possibly a week or so after it happened depending on proximity. No instant, live images as the event unfolded. No shocking immediacy. No real vivid imprint on our consciousness. No following of tweets about it or Facebook posts. No “Googling.” The Newtown of 1912 would have come together probably the same way it is coming together today. In churches and town halls and schools. The town of Hillsville, VA did the same after the “Courthouse Massacre” in 1912.
So, is the media adding any value after the initial day of the tragedy?
I’d like to think so, despite how the replaying of the same footage over and over and over for days would lead one to possibly believe otherwise. Maybe some of the stories of the incredible bravery by the teachers and first-responders help the rest of the nation take a slight edge off the sharp pains of what has happened.
Possibly the press putting forth the gun debate is of value. Maybe publishing the shocking facts of “gun life” in the United States may help (see below)
The CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION keeps what are regarded by experts as the most reliable statistics.
The first set of numbers are from the year 2009 and are gun deaths of all types:
Suicide: 18,735 deaths
Homicide: 11,493 deaths
Unintentional: 554 deaths
Legal interventions: 333 deaths
Undetermined: 232 deaths
Total: 31,347 deaths
There is a second set of data regarding guns. It tracks non-fatal injuries by guns. This number of 73,505 in 2010.
So, when you add it up, more than 100,000 people are shot in this country every single year. There are a little more than 300-million people in the US. That means 1 in every 3000 people in this country will be shot next year. The average odds of winning the lottery here in California are 1 in 15,000,000. I’d prefer the inverse.
Time Magazine reported that 15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the past 50 years happened in the U.S. The country in second place is Finland with two. The U.S. is at least 7.5 times more likely to have a mass shooting than any other country on earth. Or, as a percentage, we have 750% more mass shootings than any other country.
The question is, why? I don’t know the answer. But what is clear is that we use to pride ourselves on leading the ‘industrialized” world in all kinds of wonderful categories –innovation, productivity and more. Now we are leading that same world in gun violence and throwing great numbers of our population in prison. There will come a tipping-point. A seminal moment when we will be forced to change. Let’s hope that moment is now. And I hope the press is there to cover it when it happens, but maybe just the day of and then they can go home on day two and hug their families.