EDITOR’S COLUMN: They’re more than a headline

I would like to start this piece by expressing how incredibly proud I am of each and every member of The State News for still somehow showing up for work, reporting, editing, photographing and producing the news while it was happening to you. Your dedication to informing those around you is unwavering, and we’ve noticed this over here at the Torch. Thank you for your service to your community and for all that you did to help during those four horrible hours and in the days and weeks to follow. You make me proud to be a journalist.

I wish I could express that sentiment to every news station and publication out there. But frankly, I am embarrassed by the actions of some media outlets in response to the tragedy that struck Michigan State University on Feb. 13. Simply put, the reporting tactics utilized by a select few journalists reached lows I had never expected to see in the face of the worst moment of an entire community’s lives.

MSU experienced the United States’ 68th shooting in just 43 days of the new year. As campus received the “all clear,” reporters were swooping in to interview freshly traumatized students moments after their lives changed forever. Then they drudged up the university’s old traumas when they wrote the story up for national headlines.

I understand the burning desire to be first with the most captivating story, trust me. What I can’t get behind is reporters from all over the state rushing to East Lansing to shove cameras in the faces of students when the university and its public safety department were begging their families to stay back in safety. Not only were the instant interviews of these victims adding to their trauma, but this increased activity from reporters could not have been helping the public safety situation either.

Asking these students, while they’re in a haze after this life-altering event, for their reactions or accounts of the experience is so far outside of the scope of what I have been taught as ethical journalism, and the number of reporters I saw doing that astounded me. Extend an open offer for them to reach out to you when they are ready to talk. Bring a stack of business cards, and leave them with someone who can get them out when the time is right. The bottom line, show them some respect.

The actions of The New York Times further shocked me when reporter Tiffany May used a five-year-old traumatic event as her lede to draw readers into her story about the shooting.

“The shooting at Michigan State University on Monday upended the lives of thousands of students. It also put the school back in the national spotlight, years after a sex abuse scandal involving a prominent sports medicine doctor on its faculty became public,” the article began.

As if a shooting wasn’t shocking enough to get clicks, that’s what was chosen to get the nation to recognize MSU. They are nationally recognized for dozens of things, and this was absolutely not the time to bring this back up. I was sickened to see that reporting from a nationally respected publication.

If our government is not going to do anything to prevent my fellow peers from dying for simply trying to obtain an education, the absolute bare minimum we can do for the estimated 300,000 who suffer through mass shooting events in the US is to treat them with the dignity, respect and civility they deserve. There are other angles available to cover these stories as they’re breaking. Let these young adults heal a bit, and let them come to you when they’re ready to share their stories because, trust me, they will. Students have had enough, and we’re not going to be quiet about it.

If you’d like to get involved in the push for reformation, reach out to your representatives and senators. Their contact information is publicly available to you online by searching your address in OpenStates. They work for you, so if you have an issue you care about, call them up and let them know. 

If you’re struggling with the events at MSU, reach out to Ferris’ personal counseling center at (231) 591-5968 for support.