You probably heard, in the aftermath of the recent terrible shootings at Florida State University, that the student newspaper there was getting some heat for the staff’s decision not to name the shooter.
Let’s be clear, I think the staff made a mistake. The student journalists would go on to say that they unanimously decided not to “glorify” the shooter by presenting his name in public. I get that concept, but I think it’s flawed. Not printing his name precludes reporting in any depth on his time as a student on campus and the things that may have led to the shooting. The name was out there anyway, all over the place. It isn’t our job as journalists to protect readers from the horrors of shootings like this. And I could go on. That isn’t the decision I would have made.
Interestingly, while the students were excoriated for their decision in the naval-gazing media blogosphere (this is me starring as the pot that calls the kettle black), there were all of four comments on the editor’s note posted online explaining the decision. And three of those comments were supportive. …
As an aside, I want to say that I don’t hold any of this against the student journalists. Student newspapers are laboratories. They exist, at least in part, precisely so students can grapple with questions like this. I know some of my colleagues have been pretty hard on them, but these are young people who don’t have a lot of experience in a real pressure-filled situation. I love that they are facing questions like this.
I think College Media Matters did a great job of distilling the issues – including explaining why naming the guy is the right thing to do.
What do you think? Care to defend the idea that you wouldn’t name the shooter?