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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Public Square: Should Journalism Have New Rules for Covering Psycho Killers?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 6, 2007 at 6:23 PM

As details emerge around the recent shooting in Omaha, one item stands out: The killer seems to have been motivated in part by a desire for fame. This fame is a result of traditional journalism coming into direct conflict with the realities of modern media and the twenty four hour news cycle. Every journalism student is taught to write a lead. A sentence that starts off the story with Who What Where When Why and How. One has to wonder, however, if perhaps this formula needs to be revised at times in light of the warped desires of a few disturbed people. Would it not be better for all of society if, when it comes to mass-killers -- especially suicide killers who will never face trial -- that journalism's rules bend in favor of preventing the killer from receiving the fame they crave? Perhaps a policy as simple as using a fictional name like we assign to hurricanes, or a policy of simply using the killer's first name or initials can help curb this appetite for depraved self promotion. If all mass killers know they will never be famous, perhaps a few will choose a different outlet for their frustrations. News would not be harmed by this, as the killer's identity would remain known to the press but simply not published. And what do we as readers really care what the killer's name was? Would it matter at all if the killer was Bob Smith or John Doe? Reporters already self regulate with the names of juveniles, rape victims and similar circumstances. Isn't it time we have a voluntary ban that would deprive mass-killers of this motivation? Removing a killer's name from a story does not ensure that these types of crimes will not happen. There are very complicated reasons that cause someone to act like this. But perhaps removing this "fame" incentive will lessen the chance. Jeffrey J. Fanger Cleveland


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