This week, for the first time in my career, I found out about a mass shooting in America just like most of you: not from a TV producer breaking into my earpiece on live TV, or an internal CNN email alert, or someone screaming in the newsroom. , but from a friend.
And I’m treating it to something new: a feeling of deep irony. Before that, when I was at it, I thought something would change. At CNN, where I worked until 2021, we hosted town halls. I brought together the survivors of Parkland with the survivors of Columbine, to reflect on two school shootings that occurred two decades apart. I looked into the eyes of these survivors and thought with them that change would come.
Now I know how unsure of this change. This is partly due to political inaction. Washington hasn’t changed gun laws much. But this is also due to media coverage.
The day after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, I was standing outside the school next to Representative Ted Deutch, listening to the wail of a mother who had just lost her teenage daughter. Her screams pierced my heart. I stood under the hot camera lights and the Florida sun, stuttering, trying to fill the silence, until I let my tears fall on live TV.
The next day, one of my producers interrupted a broadcast from Florida and spoke into my earpiece. The news was faltering about President Donald Trump and the FBI. My producer assured me we’d be back in the coverage in Parkland, but at that time—I’ll never forget it—”we have to part with life to go to Washington.” But. But. But. 14 students were killed. I stood there dumbfounded. A teacher from the school was off camera, waiting to join me for a five-minute live interview. I used the coverage pause to tell her what was happening and told her we’d get to her, and that her story was important. But then I knew they wouldn’t come back to us.
Outside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I waited to reappear on my own show, sending an angry email to my producer at CNN headquarters to fight for more airtime about what was happening in Parkland: Get back to me. the teacher! Soon, I received orders to march: Return to New York. I knew what that meant: We’re done.
In 2006 I covered the first mass shooting at an Amish school in rural Pennsylvania. Then Virginia Tech. Tucson. Aurora. New town. Fort Hood. Vista Island. Waco. Charleston. Chattanooga. Lafayette. Moneta. Roseburg. Colorado Springs. San Bernardino. Orlando. Dallas. Baton Rouge. Lauderdale Barracks. Alexandria. San Francisco. New York City. small rock. Antioch. Las vigas. Sutherland Springs. Parkland. San Bruno. Nashville. Annapolis. Pittsburgh. A thousand oaks. Powai. Gilroy. El Paso. Dayton. Midland Odessa. And those are just what immediately comes to mind.
I see it differently this time, away from the race to rush to Texas and press for interviews with families of victims surrounded by temporary vigils of flickering candles, teddy bears, and crime tape. Let me tell you what happens: The news media will be in Texas this weekend, and then the news managers will start cutting back on coverage next week. The conversation has already turned to politics, with some critics urging a focus on mental health and others on guns. Some journalists will try to put our elected representatives’ feet into the fire. Part or two will spread viral. Americans will share their anger on social media. And then another story will come out next week, and the news cycle continues.
A week or 10 days later, the angry public was tired of hearing the carnage, loss, and inaction. The audience begins to descend. Drop ratings. The networks are concerned about their bottom line. While journalists in the field sympathize with the victims of these tragic stories, their network bosses treat the news as revenue-generating sources of ratings. without evaluation? less coverage. It’s that easy.
Having been part of the cable news machine for over a decade, I have a few ideas for how to fix it. Some of the children at Robb Elementary School needed to be identified by DNA because their bodies had been ripped apart by offensive weapons. I remember standing in silence as I watched a small white coffin emerge from a funeral home when I was covering Sandy Hook in 2012. Then I thought: Would minds about guns change in America if we got permission to show what the kids were left before they were put into boxes? Would the grieving parent agree to do this? I figured this would never happen. But perhaps now is the time to ask questions.
Television networks regularly hire reporters for fixers — specific topics like the White House, crime and justice, or the State Department — where reporters can take time to specialize, dig deeper, and persistently hunt for advice. How about adding mass shooting as a regular tempo? Reporters should knock on the doors of senators who continue to vote “no” on gun control legislation, and who are willing to sacrifice lives on the altar of the National Rifle Association and the Good Boys.
And news managers have to spend what it takes to stay a little longer in these societies. Respect the wishes of the victims’ families, but tell this story at every show so the audience can’t look away. I know it’s expensive to keep crews in the field, but 19 kids and two teachers? There is no cost higher than that.