After the massacre at an Oregon community college, the local sheriff made a stand about the gunman. "You will not hear anyone from this law enforcement operation use his name,” said Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin.
But Mark Memmott, NPR's supervising senior editor for standards and practices, told KUOW’s Ross Reynolds that “the ‘who’ is an important part of the story.”
“It may lead us to what motivated this person, was anyone else involved, did anyone else know he might have been capable of doing something like this and might have been able to stop it,” Memmott said.
“Now with all that said, you don’t have to saturate the coverage, and I don’t think we do, but it does need to be part of the coverage.”
KUOW was among the organizations receiving complaints that giving coverage to the gunman who killed nine others and himself at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg might inspire copycats. Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, told PRI's The World that is indeed a problem.
“I think there's a definite cycle of publicity-seeking, troubled young men with access to guns knowing what to do and playing out almost a script. And we keep playing the script for them," said Zeynap.
Tufekci told The World that the media should shouldn't dwell on details that “create a roadmap for the next person” but instead focus on the victims and heroes of stories like this.
Memmott said that’s exactly what NPR has done in the Roseburg case.
“You don’t print a full manifesto if one has been left behind or you don’t air a whole video. That’s propaganda,” he said.
“We’re moving on to the stories of the victims, the heroes, the first responders, all those other parts of the story, which are really important.”
As for community sensitivity to stories like this, Memmott said a news organization has to “understand and respect what people are saying.” Even so: “We’re in the business of just reporting the facts. And one of the facts is the name.”
And that might be easier for media like KUOW and NPR in another city than it is for, say, the Roseburg newspaper.
“The local paper is coming under a different kind of pressure,” he said. “I can understand if they make a different decision.”
Produced for the Web by Gil Aegerter.