Considering the millions of words published and voiced since the shootings last Sunday in Las Vegas, one might think we know precisely why and how they happened.
But we don’t.
We do know that in our quest as concerned Americans for explanations of why this has happened in our country at this time, we have received a flood of information, much of it gathered and processed fairly and accurately by journalists under trying circumstances.
We also know we have received information that was erroneous at best and deliberately false at worst passed along by some self-described or assumed by many to be journalists.
In the wake of the Las Vegas shootings, one aspect of this kind of news that has become more visible is the telling of the stories themselves.
This was brought to my attention this week in two ways.
First, there a thoughtful assessment of the Las Vegas news coverage by a highly regarded observer of news media in this country, the Columbia Journalism Review.
Second, there was a first-person report written by a Burien seventh-grader for a class assignment at Big Picture School.
I read both with interest.
Columbia Journalism Review has been published by the Columbia University School of Journalism since 1961, first as a print magazine and now online (www.cjr.org)
It explains in its mission statement that its role, in part, “is to be the intellectual leader in the rapidly changing world of journalismâ€¦”
Last Monday, it began an ongoing analysis of what American media were reporting – and not reporting – about the “uniquely American tragedy” in Las Vegas.
In an initial package of articles, CJR addressed such topics as the reporting’s influence on ongoing discussions of gun laws; the gunman and how he was portrayed in the media initially and later; how “fake news and conspiracy theories muddied the water,” of the reporting, noting specifically, that at points during first-day coverage of the shootings, “Google and Facebook surfaced erroneous, conspiracy-driven stories among their top results on the shooting.”
CJR concluded its introduction of this collection of articles, “â€¦Journalists and newsrooms should learn from the lessons of Las Vegas because, if one thing is sadly certain, it’s that this sort of thing will happen again.”
Later in the week, I was given “a personal view of the 2017 Las Vegas shooting” by one of the three students I work with one hour a week at Big Picture School in an elective course ambitiously titled, “Journalism.”
This student, a seventh-grade Burien girl, had been in Las Vegas that Sunday with her father.
In her report she describes how she first became aware of the shootings in phone calls from home as people checked to make sure she was okay and then from an initial television-newscast headline, “Las Vegas Shooting: At least 59 killed as gunman opens fire at concert.”
She recalls the initial questions in her own mind: where had it happened, who did it? Why?…. questions being asked at the same time by thousands of others in Las Vegas and around the world.
She described changes she observed in Las Vegas the next day: Fewer people on the streets; Shows and other events shut down. “There were quotes and messages (on billboards) to the people of Las Vegas telling them â€˜to stay strong,” she writes.’ ”
She concludes her article:
“I honestly don’t fully understand; no one really doesâ€¦I don’t know if this will really ever go away; will people ever feel as safe? Everyone’s so worried about Vegas, but I personally believe that this didn’t just change Las Vegas – it changed the world.”
And our quest for an honest, fair accounting goes on among us all…
Cliff Rowe is a retired journalist and journalism professor. (He practiced both in a time before journalists and what they produced were considered “enemies of the people.”) He and his family have lived in the Shorewood area of White Center (then Burien) since 1969 when they returned to the Northwest after seven years in the Chicago area. There, following graduate school, he wrote and edited with the Chicago Sun-Times and with Paddock Publications in the Chicago suburbs. On moving here, he was with The Seattle Times for 11 years before turning to teaching journalism at Pacific Lutheran University for 35 years, retiring in 2015.