So, there’s been another mass shooting. The San Bernardino shooting is the second newsworthy one in a week making for a busy news cycle. Even the most ill-informed Americans will turn to some news source for information after a mass shooting. That’s where you come in. Ain’t America grand?
Since I’ve already written written a lot about mass shootings and bombings, and as I showed in The Sky Is Falling: The Media, The Justice System & Pedophiles, as an amateur blogger, I’ve done more research on some news stories than most major media outlets, I thought I’d write a basic guide to covering these terrible tragedies.
Here are a few rules that American media outlets should follow:
- Determine whether the shooter or the victims are white.
- If at least some of the victims are white and the shooter is not, that deserves a minimum of three to four days of full-time reporting, particularly if the assailant has a Middle Eastern sounding name, even if they’re not Middle Eastern.
- If the assailant is so obviously not Middle Eastern that you can’t force that connection, go with the mental health angle, or even heavy metal music or video games–anything but terrorism:
- If neither the assailant nor any of the victims are white, discontinue coverage after half a day.
- Jump to conclusions whenever possible. Research and facts don’t really matter to major media outlets, because facts don’t really matter to people. Sensationalized reports grab viewers. Being first is best, even if you’re wrong. You can always correct errors later if you get caught.
- Make sure that all weapons, including knives, are described with one of these adjectives: “automatic,” “fully automatic,” “assault,” “military” or “tactical.”
- Handguns are to be specifically referred to as “semi-automatic” even though, with the exception of revolvers, all handguns are semi-automatic. In handguns, the term refers to the loading mechanism, not the firing capability, but some variation of “automatic” sounds better.
- Rifles are to be referred to as “assault,” “fully automatic,” “combat,” or “AK-47” regardless of caliber, action or type of rifle. Tiny .22 caliber rifles and shotguns can also be called “assault rifles.”
- Use the words “terror,” “terrorist” and “terrorism” as much as possible, particularly in on-screen graphics and crawlers. Use red when talking about terrorists to subtly remind people of the highest threat level of the Homeland Security Advisory System. Use red, white and blue in on-screen graphics to hint at the American flag. ABC News gets bonus points here for framing the actual American flag in their shot:
- Throw around words like “extremist,” “improvised explosive device (IED),” “high-capacity magazines,” “Muslim,” and make sure to cast a shadow over the word “citizen.”
- Find an expert. It doesn’t really matter what they’re an expert on, just that they can talk for at least two minutes about the tragedy. College professors are always good experts.
- Find a witness. This will be hard at first, because everyone will be trying to find a witness, but your witness doesn’t actually have to witness anything first hand. They just need some vague connection to the “terrorist.” A neighbor or high school friend? The girlfriend of someone’s brother who posted on Twitter that he was there? Someone who delivered lunch to the “terrorist” last week? Perfect! Ask them their thoughts.
- Dig through the terrorist’s digital footprint. Find everything they posted on any website ever, even if it’s completely unrelated to anything. You can waste hours reporting on that alone.
- If you run out of witnesses and experts, troll social media. There’s a wealth of amazing things to report on there. The great thing about showcasing social media is that the media outlet itself isn’t responsible for what’s said. You can call an entire group of people terrorists, Muslims for example, without actually saying it yourself. Plus, it just eats up that screen time you have to fill between press conferences.
Pro tip: make sure you type in common misspellings, too, since that’s where the real gold lies. For example, not one of these tweets spelled San Bernardino correctly:
- Make sure you talk about gun control. Even if it’s a bombing or stabbing, talk about gun control.
- If you’re not reporting on something related to the story–sometimes, other things happen, too–make sure you mention that you’ll return to reporting on the story after this so people don’t turn you off.
- Always make sure to say, “Our thoughts go out to the victims and their families.”