A problem needs to be identified before it's fixed.
Assigning language to the current narrative issues and ideal vision of journalism is important to begin change.
Some Issues in Gun violence Reporting
Objective journalism prioritizes detachment and distance from the participant, and often fails to recognize that identity and lived experience benefits a story.
Urgency and need-to-know information about a developing story. It tends to be reactive, relying on stereotypes to fill the gaps in information.
A journalist that enters a community with the sole intent to get a story without forming connections with the people they are reporting on. They "parachute in," take what they need, and leave without following up.
A type of journalism coverage that focuses on individual events. This reporting style in gun violence can undermine public health solutions, reinforce stereotypes and false narratives of communities, and support the unfounded claim that policing reduces gun violence.
In gun violence reporting, these issues can show up in a number of ways.
Gang activity, gang-affiliated, and drug-related are used broadly and are invalidating. These terms are applied to community members who live in neighborhoods where gang violence takes place, but aren't involved in it themselves.
Targeted implies that the victim of gun violence "deserved" to be hurt because they were involved in illegal activity, even if they weren't.
The phrase police involved shooting is vague and passive. It removes guilt from the police. The subject of who did the shooting is obfuscated, while who was shot is left out. This phrase also implies that the person who was shot was guilty or deserved to be harmed by the state.
The use of mugshots puts too much emphasis on the perpetrator while disproportionality and inaccurately showing Black and brown young men as the perpetrators of gun violence.
Some Solutions in Gun Violence reporting
A model of news reporting that prioritizes community members and their neighborhood, especially low-income or communities of color that have received inaccurate news coverage. Journalists that practice this consistently show up in the community and understand the people they're reporting on.
Rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems. These stories contain four key elements:
1.) Response – to a social problem and how that response has worked, or why it hasn’t
2.) Insight – what can be learned from a response and why it matters to a newsroom’s audience
3.) Evidence – Provides data to indicate effectiveness (or lack thereof)
4.) Limitations – Places responses in context and doesn’t shy away from revealing shortcomings
A community member that provides lived experience to a story. An alternative term to "source," participants are more involved in a story's development and publication, with some news initiatives providing financial compensation for their time.
Trauma Informed Interviewing
A style of interviewing that centers empathy, comfort, and safety. Participants have full autonomy over when and how the interview is conducted.
Public Health Reframe
Public health promotes and protects the health of people and the communities where they live, learn, work and play. In gun violence, it's not about treating an individual case but finding solutions to prevent it in the first place.
"Anything that's taken the lives of this many people, this many young people in this country, in this world, needs to be something that we focus on. To me, that's the given. That's the starting point."
Dr. Chana Sacks
Understanding that gun violence is a health problem with solutions rather than a criminal problem that the general public needs protection from is at the root of a public health narrative reframe. Some initiatives like the MGH Gun Violence Prevention Center and Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting have excellent resource and research teams. More definitions and general information can be found at the CDC's Firearm Violence Prevention webpage.
Click on the number to view the full reading
"'Like I'm Nobody:' Firearm-Injured Peoples' Perspectives on News Media Reporting about Firearm Violence"
American Public Health Association's definition of public health
A podcast with transcript available called "Solving the Problem of Gun Violence with Dr. Chana Sacks"