Shock and awe

One of the many differences that I have noticed between practicing journalism in Australia and in Germany, is that things are a lot tougher Down Under.  Be it in the workplace, or in the media market itself: there is a no-holds-barred attitude to reporting here. Whereas you need to be at the Bild Zeitung before you can really confront the reader in Germany, I feel like it is completely par for the course in Australia.

I’m still not immune to the pain of real tragedy. I was really shocked and saddened by the shooting massacre that happened in the gay nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando. No matter how often these horrible tragedies occur in the USA, the loss of life is chilling. The fear of those innocent people in the Pulse nightclub is terrible to consider.

But do we need – as distant bystanders on the other side of the world – to do anything other than consider it and reflect on it?

Or do we need to experience it? Do we need to know about the desperate texts sent last minute from a son to his mother before he dies? Or do we have to watch a Snapchat video filmed just before another woman is shot? Or do we need an eyewitness telling a TV reporter with a shaky voice every detail about how the gunman moved through the club, shooting each person dead? I would say, no.

If we keep reporting closer and closer to the fear, to the act of crime, it becomes not only more normal … it becomes something that other people might want to experiment with. Let’s admit it. There is something fascinating about fear – pure, horrifying fear. It’s the car-crash effect. If just one person is excited by that reporting – and uses it to motivate himself in future to carry out another of these damn shootings – then us journalists are making a horrible mistake.

Then there’s the fact that we feed every single detail imaginable about the gunman’s life – giving him way more than his 15 minutes of fame and the very infamy we all know he doesn’t deserve.

I believe our role as journalists is to shield that away from the readers. It will not be a popular view, but I think it can be the only view if you place a higher value on humanity than entertainment. We have been doing it for years already, as we carefully edited TV news agency material which was too shocking to put on at evening news time. And you never noticed the severed appendages and human innards were missing then, did you?

I believe a line can be trodden where journalists report the crucial facts, and the necessary – ie. politically and socially relevant – details of the story, without glorifying the act. I’m going to consciously try to tread that line from now on.

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