Shock vs. Sensitivity



Like most people, I was shocked by the on-air shooting of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. As I tried to learn more about what happened after first seeing only a tweet about the incident, my shock turned first to horror and then anger.

This isn’t a post about stricter gun-control laws. I fervently, deeply support that, but my friends Lauren and Chris Holm have already covered that in posts more eloquent and effective than anything I could write (click on their names to read them).

What I want to talk about is, why did some news outlets post the videos of Parker and Ward being murdered? The first site I visited was CNN, and though it posted a warning about graphic content, a freeze frame/screen grab of the video was visible and I felt sick after catching a brief glimpse of it.

I quickly scrolled past it, like a person trying to get rid of porn on the computer when someone else enters the room, but I was still shaking. I don’t need to see the final moments of Parker’s and Ward’s lives to understand how horrific their deaths were. I imagine Parker’s and Ward’s loved ones don’t want to watch them being killed, either. The shooting occurred during WDBJ’s morning broadcast so the station can’t be faulted for what went live, but other news outlets had no good reason to show the gruesome images after the fact.

The press exists because the public has the right to know, but did it need to witness Parker’s and Ward’s dying gasps? If the gunman (I refuse to write his name) were still at large and Ward’s footage contained the only lead to his identity, then I could understand it being shown with a plea to help identify the shooter.

But that’s not the case. Therefore I can only assume the video was shown for ratings or clicks. Which means it’s exploitation of a double murder.

I was once like Parker, a young TV news reporter at a small station in Virginia. Occasionally a cameraman would return from location with raw footage of a tragedy, the aftermath of a drunk driver colliding with another car or a child flipping an ATV.

Without being told by our news director, my colleagues and I always knew to edit out the bloody parts and air only enough footage to indicate a tragedy had occurred, never anything that might upset the general public or, worse, the victims’ families. It’s been many years since I worked in TV news and the world has changed drastically, but is it too much to ask for a certain level of sensitivity and a professional standard of decency?

How do you feel about the graphic footage being on air and online? Should it be shown because it’s “part of the story”?



  • Reply
    August 27, 2015 at 6:59 am

    We’ve talked about this a bit, but I’ve also thought about it a bit more in conjunction with other posts/discussions. I think it was shown because we have become a blood-thirsty society. People seek out videos such as this (i.e., all the beheading videos that circulate), so I think media outlets think they need/have to show them in order to “keep up with the Joneses” as it were.

    As I thought about it this morning, it seems (and please, anyone, correct me if you didn’t feel this same difference) that the groundswell yesterday was a little more fervent, that more people expressed their disgust with the status quo.

    As I thought about what the difference might be this time, of all times, the only thing I can come up with is that we saw this murder happen live, if not actually in real time then after the fact. Have we become so inured to violence that we don’t “get it,” can’t imagine it, are unable to consider it “real” unless we actually see it?

    If this is the case, if this is the coma we needed to be jolted out of, then maybe, just MAYBE, some “good” will come from the horrific video and pictures making the rounds. I still don’t condone it or think it’s the right call (see the NY Daily News front page – or don’t really), but if it moves us a step closer to some actual change? Perhaps it will have a good side. That’s the only thing I can hope. Otherwise, I’m just left with a bunch of aholes who get clicks and site visits.

    Great and thoughtful post, PCN, thanks for putting it up for us to discuss.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      August 27, 2015 at 11:58 am

      That’s a good way to look at it–that maybe it’ll jolt people into action. Thank you for providing a different perspective.

  • Reply
    Sarah RH
    August 27, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Thank you for this. My first thought when I saw this on the news yesterday (after the newscaster said the video was graphic) was why would you release that footage?? I was really shocked and sadly not surprised that they would allow this. If the gunman had been unidentified, I completely understand releasing part of the video to help ID him but I believe it was unnecessary to release the video. I feel for the families and hope they did not find out about their loved ones deaths this way first.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      August 27, 2015 at 12:09 pm

      I sure hope the video is not how their families learned about their deaths. We already know Ward’s fiancee saw the whole thing unfold and that’s awful enough to imagine.

      Thanks for your comment, Sarah. As someone who deals with tragedy on the job, you probably know more than most people about shocking incidents.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    I agree with Lauren in that the news (and let’s face it, the entire social media community) is all about the clicks and views of anything they post. Everyone seeks to trend or go viral. That’s just the world now. A lot of good comes from it (our politicians and world leaders can no longer hide so easily and Amber alerts are sometimes successful) and a lot of bad (the news, in this case, but let’s not discount the reality that most of theses seemingly senseless killings are really all about a grab for fame and notoriety).

    Just like with the actual highway, the Internet super highway will always have gawkers who slow down to take a look at any carnage along the way. This is what happened yesterday and will continue to happen because it’s been going on for a helluva long time. Remember when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot on live TV? That footage is still pretty easily found.

    I’d like to think those people who slow down their lives and click to view the latest scandal are the great uneducated masses out there and excludes myself and the readers of this blog, but I have friends and relatives with MBAs and PHDs who will spout news and share videos of the latest carnage with just a little too much of a gleam in their eye for my taste, too. They also tune in regularly for episodes of The Bachelor, Bachelorette, Duck Dynasty and any of those Real Housewives of wherever. But, I digress…..

    We can only govern ourselves and draw our own lines in the sand.
    I appreciate what Lauren and Chris are suggesting and I will try their method, but, in all honesty, I remain cynical as to the outcome.

    • Reply
      August 27, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      I count myself among the cynics as well, Eirego. I have a hard time keeping a “we are not doomed” mindset. There is not likely a group of people I trust any less than politicians. Maybe bankers. That would be a close call. I’m not sure how to “beat” the NRA and its funders. Maybe it’s not possible. The pessimist in me sure doesn’t think so, at least not unless and until the loved one of some major politician who currently aligns with that side is a victim of one of these crimes. I just don’t know. But hey, a few emails can’t hurt. I wrote my reps back a few months ago and the response was underwhelming to say the least.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      August 27, 2015 at 12:20 pm

      Thank you for this, Eirego. Rubbernecking syndrome has long been a pet peeve of mine. If you’re spending any amount of time looking at something horrible that happened, you should either figure out how to help or move on and allow the helpers to move in. Otherwise, you’re just in the way and slowing everyone else down.

      I mean this literally because when I arrived at crime scenes as a reporter, sometimes there were so many gawkers standing around that the ambulance couldn’t get through. Yes, journalists could be pests and get in the way, too, and I can only say I stayed back as much as possible to let the essential people work. So what if my boss lectured me sometimes for not being aggressive enough? Lives were saved.

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