Bomb threat: Blame the media

Bobbye Pyke

On Tuesday, Bryant Middle School was evacuated after a bomb threat was posted on the wall of a boys' bathroom stall. Bomb-sniffing dogs were brought in from the Little Rock Air Force Base and while no bomb was found on the premises, a student did confess to posting the threat.
There was some criticism by other journalists of the Courier staff for covering the bomb threat and one individual stated, "Maybe there wouldn't be so many bomb threats if the media stopped covering the bomb threats. Just saying."
I find there to be a huge difference between covering a story and sensationalizing a story. Journalists have an obligation to tell the public what they need to know and in Saline County, news of a bomb threat at a local middle school is just that: news. However, to sensationalize such a story would be improper and unnecessary.
I understand the argument that many individuals who make bomb threats or threaten school shootings and the like are doing so for attention. There is a large base of research that states that the news media should stop providing nicknames to serial killers. By referencing someone who commits heinous crimes with a nickname, we draw attention away from the crimes and put too much attention on the individual.
Americans are guilty of loving sensationalized information. Do you remember the name Gary Ridgway? He was apprehended in 2001 and was known as the Green River Killer. Do you remember the name of the Boston Bomber? Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. How about the Sandy Hook shooter? His name was Adam Lanza.
How about the names of the criminals we do remember? Casey Anthony. She was offered a book deal. O.J. Simpson. Book deal. We continue to report on George Zimmerman even though his trial ended long ago. Did you know that Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, and John Wayne Gacy never used their middle names, and yet that is how we remember them in the history books?
It is easy to point fingers at the media and say, "If they would just stop reporting on these people, if they would stop giving them attention, giving them nicknames, maybe none of these horrible things would keep happening." Maybe they are right. Maybe if we never reported on school shootings, bomb threats, and serial killers these things would magically disappear. Or maybe we should stop blaming the media for these events and rather critique the media coverage and the media consumption of these events.
News cannot exist without viewers and readers. And what do people like to watch? Deny all you want, but people love tragedy. People love violence. People love a good murder mystery. We want to see the weeping families. We want to read the manifesto of the crazy guy who shoots up a school. We want to try to understand the serial killer. We watch the movies based on their lives, look at their paintings, read their poetry. They are fascinating to us. Can you blame the media for reporting on these things? People eat it up! It is noble to say that news is not about the ratings, but let's be honest, we don't exist without the ratings. A story isn't important unless someone is interested in it.
Why is the media saturated with reality television? Because people watch. Why does the media report on bomb threats? Because people listen.
The question will never be whether or not to cover these events. The question is how should they be covered. As interesting as it is to try to get in the head of the serial killer, any attention you provide them is exactly what they want. The Zodiac Killer sent taunting letters to the police department because they wanted their name in the paper. Sometimes people issue dangerous threats simply because they crave the attention and too often, we give them what they want. As a journalist, I am concerned about not falling into sensationalism. My job is to inform the public. To tell the story. And as long as I am concerned with maintaining my journalistic ethics and standards, I know better than to sensationalize my story for the sake of some ratings. Most journalists would agree.
You can blame the media for the horrors that occur in the nation because we give them attention. However, by reading the story, by buying the book, by looking at the photos, and by asking and searching for the gritty details, media consumers contribute to the problem they claim the media causes. So perhaps, before pointing fingers at the paper for covering the story of a bomb threat, you consider that perhaps you are a part of the problem.