Visual Reporting of Mass Shootings from 1966 until 2016.
NAMES TO BE REMEMBERED
SHOOTING IN THE TOWER, 1966
Edna Elizabeth Townsley
Martin "Mark" Gabour
Mary Frances Gabour
Baby Boy Wilson
Thomas Frederick Eckman
Robert Hamilton Boyer
Thomas Aquinas Ashton
Homer J. Kelley
Thomas Ray Karr
David Hubert Gunby
Paul Bolton Sonntag
Carla Sue Wheeler
Roy Dell Schmidt
Billy Paul Speed
John Scott Allen
As a note, while the names listed need to be remembered, these 66 names are drops in the bucket of the 1,194 victims killed in the US due to gun violence and mass shootings since 1966, as reported by Bonnie Berkowitz, Denise Lu and Chris Alcantara with The Washington Post.
Of the top ten deadliest mass shootings in modern US History, 1966 until 2019, death tolls range from 14 people to 58 people. How has visual reporting of the earliest, University of Texas shooting in 1966, and one of the most recent events, Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016, changed with the five decades between them? Has there been a shift in focus in coverage of these events; from shooter to victim emphasis?
This topic really spoke to me because of how this type of event could be an assignment I will have to cover one day as a visual journalist. One of our bookend events, the Pulse Nightclub shooting has always stood out to me because of its date; the same day that I graduated from high school. I knew I wanted to be a visual journalist going into college, and this event was a reality check for what I might have to cover in my future career. I know that there is no way to emotionally prepare for an incident like this one, but I feel it is my responsibility to know going in to the field what has been done, how the field of visual reporting about tragic events has and is evolving and how to be more tactful in the way I can cover these tragedies in meaningful and appropriate ways.
WHAT IS IT?
In the wake of tragedy victims and the public alike are left looking for clarity and closure, the media attempts to fill that void in ways that will appeal to the public’s needs. Over the last five decades there has been an increase in the variety of ways that media is reported, a large shift being in the way events are visually and graphically reported. With the invention of accessible technology like drones and an increase in the number of reporters dedicated to producing visual content, the needs for the consumption of media have strayed far from the traditional article and matching photo. Needs for media have evolved into demands for dynamic pictorial media. In this project we will be examining how those demands for visual media have been met following mass shootings.
In order to be on the same page a term that needs to be defined is the phrase “mass shooting.” William J. Krouse, a specialist in domestic security and crime policy, wrote, “According to the FBI, the term “mass murder” has been defined generally as a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered, within one event, and in one or more locations in close geographical proximity” (Krouse & Richardson, 2015). To analyze this shift this project will look at bookend mass shooting events, specifically, the 1966 shooting at the University of Texas in the Tower and the 2016 Pulse Nightclub Shooting in Orlando, Florida. The bookend incidents being analyzed both fit within that threshold of at least four fatalities, not including the perpetrator.
In 1966 a man called Charles Whitman, a former marine and a then-current University of Texas student, “found a gun and ammunition, and went to the University's tower. He clubbed a receptionist, who later died, killed two people and wounded two others before reaching the observation deck” (Stearns, 2008). In the matter of an estimated 20 minutes Whitman’s actions of open fire had killed 14 people and wounded 31 others. This was not including the murders of his mother and wife earlier that day. Whitman was stopped and killed by an officer responding to the call assisted by a civilian on-site.
FAST FORWARD FIVE DECADES
On June 12, 2016 Omar Mateen opened fire on the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Mateen was born in America to Muslim, immigrant parents, 29-years-old and a security guard. Mateen walked into Pulse with a semi-automatic rifle and a semi-automatic pistol and extra rounds, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others. After a three-hour hostage situation and police stand-off Mateen was shot and killed by officers on-site.
There are a number of reasons that circulated about Whitman’s motive, his mental health being the biggest factor in question. One of the first articles published was from TIME Magazine. The article contained no pictures and was comprised of a 407-word story that described what the view from the tower looked like, the article described where all of the ammo Whitman used was bought and went on to say that he, “sent his bullets burning and rasping through the flesh and bone of those on the campus below, then of those who walked or stood or rode as far as three blocks away” (TIME, 1966). At that moment, TIME did not produce any photos, videos or graphic visuals of the event.
Other news outlets like The Austin American produced front-page coverage that included a portrait of Whitman, photos of the landscape of the University of Texas and a photo of the officer that was on scene. Those, now, archived photos and articles are all that were found that include visual storytelling of the event. There were no photos found of the victims and the photos depicting Whitman were his Marine recruitment photos, Whitman looking distinguished and ‘respectable.’
Omar Mateen, the Pulse nightclub shooter’s motivations for the attack has been chalked up to a statement he made in a 9-1-1 call, about 20 minutes into the tragedy, pledging allegiance to ISIS." (Perez, Prokupecz, & Shoichet, 2016). In the days and weeks that followed, issues of homophobia, toxic masculinity, gun control, gay shame, and Islamophobia entered the public spotlight largely in conjunction with the criminal investigation into Omar Mateen’s personal life” (Kalish Blair, 2016). Videos, photos, articles from all different perspectives and topics and visual graphics poured out of this story. TIME magazine produced a number of articles that had photos of the outside of the club the night of the shooting, a video compilation of eye-witness reports and the president’s response to the attack. Arguably a much larger pool of content produced, by TIME, for this shooting as opposed to the shooting in the tower in 1966.
The visual representation of the Pulse shooting produced by The Tampa Bay Times, called Choice and Chance, was the most notable benchmark in differences of available technology in 2016, as opposed to 1966. The visual piece enabled users to step into a click-by-click, play-by-play of the horror that ensued on June 12, 2016. The visual includes a 3D scale model interior of the nightclub. Viewers can go screen-to-screen of when Mateen entered the nightclub, the names, ages, quotes, locations (within the club) and pictures of those who were killed while trying to escape. These intimate details were accompanied by red-flashing lights and transitions of the scale model from room to room. With each click new captions appear reading things like, “Angel hears the shooter get closer,” *the user clicks and a new caption appears, “I’m next. He thinks.” The user clicks again, and the new caption reads, “A bullet hits his hand.” The user continues to click, and words are added to the current caption, “His Hip.” Users click again revealing, “He survives because he does not scream.” (Tampa Bay Times staff, 2016).
Many things can change in five decades. In the journalism realm changes could range from the number of staff members, diversity of staff members, technology available for these events, staff expertise, an emerging field of visual journalism, time dedicated to specific projects, number of tragic events being reported on, perception of ‘anti-Americanism,’ the list could go on.
The shift between these two events are largely
is due to technology available and staff dedicated to each project. With the 407-word story, “The Madman in the Tower,” by TIME Magazine, there was one reporter assigned to the case, a few photos that followed in the days and weeks following and that was the end of the coverage. The Tampa Bay Times reenactment of the Pulse Nightclub shooting took 21 reporters, designers and over a week to produce. At the time of the Pulse shooting there was a larger dedicated staff for the vision and access to floor plans, 3D imaging, online photos of the victims and a group of computer science coders to write the website from scratch, all contributed to this project becoming a reality.
Whether or not this play-by-play reenactment is ethically and/or morally sound, journalists are being tasked, more so than ever, to create new, “never-before-seen” content with the endless resources available. “From sound bites to digital bytes, information, whether words or pictures, can be sampled however the consumer desires…anywhere in the world” (Zavoina & Reichert, 2000).With the increasingly readily accessible smart phones everyone can be a reporter of sorts and with the increasing number of tragic events happening all over America, projects like “Choice and Chance” by the Tampa Bay Times are being created to break through the constant noise of mass tragedy.
EMPHASIS AND FRAMING
By looking at the bookend events of tragedy in America, we are able to observe a shift in the way reporters have framed the telling of these events. Being one of the first ‘defined’ mass shootings in America, the way Whitman was described was as an “ex-marine,” “a blond, husky young man,” “a student of architectural engineering” and described the scene in the second paragraph as an “extraordinary view of the 232-acre campus,” (TIME, 1966).
Conversely, the Pulse Nightclub, “The shooting has been described as the deadliest act of violence against the LGBT community in the history of the United States, the biggest mass killing of LGBT people in the Western world since the Holocaust; and the deadliest act of terrorism in the United States since the attacks on September 11, 2001” (Stonehem, 2016).
Between these two statements it can be seen that the perpetrators of the events have evolved from “normal people” who may have some mental and emotional health issues to blatantly “anti-American” or “Anti-LGBTQIA+." In the article, On the Boundaries of Framing Terrorism: Guilt, Victimization, and the 2016 Orlando Shooting. Mass Communication & Society, Walter, Billard and Murphy reiterate this by saying, “The coverage of the Orlando attack offered competing accounts regarding the perpetrator (homophobic crime vs. Islamic terrorist) and the victim (the LGBTQ community vs. Americans.)” (Walter, Billard & Murphy, 2017). In addition to that, the emphasis on victim “memorialization” has become increasingly important to the public. More and more so, news outlets are producing articles about the perpetrator as well as full articles giving short biographies of all the victims involved.
Reporting on tragedy for the purpose of public consumption, naturally, comes with some red-tape that journalists find themselves having to navigate in a
A number of news organizations have put together guides to help ease the process of navigating this red tape.
Some of the best practices include “Avoid speculating about mental illness or allowing unqualified sources to speculate about mental illness,” (Poynter., 2017), realizing that “it is vital that [reporters] consider how news is reported, given their professional ethics and the moral imperative of minimizing harm” (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014). This is especially pertinent to mass shooting coverage because of recent findings on “contagion and copycat effects,” (Dahmen – SAGE Journals, 2018).
In addition to that, Dahmen, Lankford, & Madfis theorized that, “The most common location for both photos of perpetrators and of deceased victims was the lead story, and the total number of deceased victim photos was slightly more than the total number of perpetrator photos,” (Dahmen et all, 2018). This information could represent the proportional populations of perpetrators (typically 1) to victims (typically 14+) and be proportionate to the amount of coverage and number of photos.
Finally, one of the pieces of this complex puzzle to consider is the effect reporting on these constant tragedies has on the reporters covering them. New York Times reporter, Julie Turkewitz, wrote in 2016,
“I’ve covered four mass shootings in the last eight months. Seventy-five people lost their lives in those massacres, and another 92 were injured… No one wants to spend their year covering a series of massacres. And yet, here we are: the shootings, the reporters’ questions, the memorials full of fading carnations, all forming a new American ritual, one that is increasingly knitted into our cultural narrative,” (Dahmen, Abdenour, McIntyre & Noga-Styron, 2018).
The increasingly normalized nature of mass shootings, terror attacks and bombings could arguably have created a desensitized attitude from the general public. This is why it is important for journalists to be aware of the current public’s attitudes towards tragedy and finding ways to report the event without retraumatizing those who experienced the incident and refraining from traumatizing those who were not there. In addition to this, journalists must balance on the fine line between appropriately memorializing and recognizing the victims, while also making light of prevention and action tactics the public can take in the wake of the tragedy.
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NAMES TO BE REMEMBERED
PULSE NIGHTCLUB SHOOTING, 2016