Editorial: The inevitability of covering mass shootings

The Editorial Board

Twelve people were killed in a shooting at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, California, this past Thursday. It was yet another mass shooting in America, another act of violence resulting in senseless death.

It seems inevitable that we as young journalists will have to cover a mass shooting one day, that some newsrooms might have a “shootings beat” in the near future.

So, when a message came into our work chat Friday morning saying Ravenna High School was on lockdown, it was hard to not assume the worst — that a shooting had taken place. Things like this seem to happen every day, it was only a matter of time before it happened closer to home.

Nonetheless, it was jarring — our managing editor, on his second full day on the job, cried on the way to work because he thought a shooting had just occurred.

It turned out to be a false alarm. A student from Ravenna High School sent a threatening Snapchat, and was called into the office by school officials and was subsequently apprehended by police. The lockdown was precautionary. Police swept the school to make sure all was safe. Classes resumed and students could go home if they wanted to.

With these incidents, coupled with the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue two weeks ago, this issue is weighing heavy on our minds.

Compounding on the weight of this issue, as we began production of today’s paper, we saw reports that a Cleveland.com reporter, Nikki Delamotte, was shot and killed Sunday. Details of her death have not been confirmed.

All this begs the question: When will things change? From the moment 20 elementary school students were killed in the Sandy Hook shooting and there was barely any significant response, it became apparent little would ever be done to combat the issue of gun violence in America.

There’s a routine that occurs. An incident takes place. Prayers are given by politicians. Police promise stronger security in public spaces. Parents beg for change. We as reporters write down the quotes, read the police reports and write the stories.

No matter how devastating, how harrowing, everyone follows this routine.

This pattern we see as journalists is disheartening. How many mass shootings and incidents involving gun violence do we have to cover to get people to wake up? 

Journalists are trained to cover tragedy. As averse we are to it, it’s in the job description to be ready to report on the worst acts of humanity. It doesn’t make it easy. Or normal.

Often times, people blame the media, saying we give too much attention to the perpetrators of these crimes, which then inspires more people to search for their 15 seconds of fame in the most horrific way possible. To some degree, this could be true. But that can’t stop us from covering it.

And as we continue covering and updating our mass shooting tracker, it’s becoming more and more clear that those in a position to jumpstart change are not making a meaningful effort to do so.

We cover politicians offering their thoughts on what it’ll take to end gun violence in America. We do our best to remain neutral. We don’t know what the right answer is. But why hasn’t a nearly daily dose of shootings this year been enough to find one? How many more hundreds of shootings need to happen to kick those in power into action?