Tom Teves’ Hawaiian vacation turned into a nightmare when his son’s girlfriend called him on July 20, 2012.
“Amanda, calm down,” he said. “Where is Alex?”
She didn’t know. She was dragged out of the movie theater when the shooting started (there is a reason we are not using the shooter’s name here).
“Was Alex hurt?” Tom asked.
Again, she had no answer.
“Do you have any of his blood on you?” Tom asked.
Finally, a question she could answer.
“Yea, Tom. A lot.”
Teves’ son, Alex, was one of 12 deaths in the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting. Teves shared his story with journalists at the Excellence in Journalism Conference session, “How well does the media cover mass murder?”
With mass murders getting more news coverage in the last few years, media outlets have a public responsibility to relay the news and information available to the public in the most effective way possible. However, many outlets haven’t considered the effect their coverage can have on the family members of those lost or how they inadvertently glorify the killers they cover.
Casey Ferrand, a reporter and anchor at WDSU News New Orleans, led the discussion panel and posed questions to three guest speakers.
Teves, the first speaker, co-founded No Notoriety, a group pushing for media to not give shooters the fame they seek.
“Being nice to me is cool,” Teves said of the news media, “and I don’t mind that, but I don’t need that.”
Teves raised points regarding media practices, such as how the media misrepresented his son’s killer in photos and how they glorified the killer’s trial.
While Teves said he understood that media outlets are just doing their jobs, he raised issue with the idea of “24/7 coverage of no victims.”
Andrew Seaman, the SPJ ethics chair and a medical reporter at Reuters, brought in a professional’s perspective.
“Get yourself out of the head of a journalist and put it in the head of a human,” Seaman said. “Go back and talk to your editor about this, because, sort of they set that newsroom culture about what do you do, and be more responsible in your content choices.”
Media outlets are responsible for the information the public receives. If a story has too much detail, Seaman said, he asks himself, “Who thought this was appropriate? Who thought this was necessary?”
Seaman stressed how important it is to maintain a sense of empathetic connection with people, no matter what.
“It’s hard to argue against what’s right,” he said.
Teves said the courtroom was “packed to the rafters” for the end of the trial in July 2015. “Everybody was there the last day, for the guilty verdict, and there wasn’t anything compelling to drive them away,” Teves said. “Two days later, somebody is in a Louisiana theater shooting people.”
NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reporter Emily Lane covered the Lafayette, La. shooting in July 2015.
“Before you talk to anybody, apologize just for being there and being a reporter,” Lane said. “Most of the time, if you’re human about it, people understand.”
Lane said it changes the story for the better when reporters take the time to learn how the community is grieving. She said it’s OK to gather information and not report it.
“Take some time to understand the community a bit,” Lane said, “I think that made me feel good about reporting.”
Teves watched the reporters who covered the Aurora, Colo. trial. “They’d all leave to report their stories,” Teves said. “And I’d stay in the court room and just watch him (the killer). And as soon as they all left, he (the killer) turned into a regular person.”
He became emotional as he spoke about the killer. Teves said nobody is trying to stop the media from sharing information as it comes in. His organization “No Notoriety” wants the media to limit how often they use a shooter’s or killer’s name.
Teves doesn’t want media coverage to glorify mass murders. The RTDNA code of ethics instructs journalists to be accountable for consequences. “Minimizing harm, particularly to vulnerable individuals, should be a consideration in every editorial and ethical decision,” according to RTDNA.
“When I hear ‘do no harm,’” Teves said, “I’m worried about all your children. Mine’s already dead.”