Is The No Notoriety Campaign Being Used While Covering The Virginia TV Shooting Suspect?
Wednesday's murder of two Virginia journalists has been covered by every major news outlet in the country — and some of these outlets may be following the No Notoriety campaign when reporting on the Virginia shooter. The campaign, which was created in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado, shootings, aims to encourage news outlets to focus more on the victims of violence, and less on the perpetrator. And although the majority of outlets are still reporting on the shooter's name, there's been an interesting shift in the coverage.
The victims of the attack were reporter Alison Parker, 24, and photographer Adam Ward, 27, who were interviewing Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce director Vicki Gardner for WDBJ7 on Wednesday morning, when a gunman opened fire, killing Parker and Ward and injuring Gardner. The attack was broadcast live on television.
The shooter has since been identified as Vester Lee Flanagan II, a former WDBJ7 reporter who went by the on-air name Bryce Williams. Flanagan reportedly filmed the shooting himself and posted it to his Twitter account shortly after the attack. He also allegedly faxed a 23-page manifesto to ABC News. Several hours after the shooting, authorities confirmed that Flanagan, who had been fired from the station a year ago, had shot himself.
CNN has been covering the story thoroughly, both on TV as well as their online site. Earlier on Wednesday, visitors to their digital site were treated to an unexpected sight: a graphic of Parker, Ward, and Flanagan, as pictured above. Both Parker and Ward were identified by name, but Flanagan was only referred to as "shooter." It was clearly intended to be a sign of respect for the two victims — a move that appears to fall in line with the goals of the No Notoriety campaign.
The campaign is based on the concept that mass murderers and shooters desire notoriety and attention, something they receive from the media frenzy that occurs after attacks. The campaign aims to limit the exposure that murderers receive, by challenging media outlets to limit their use of assailant's names and photos after the initial identification, as well as refusing to publish any statements released by the assailant.
CNN's initial online graphic might have complied with the campaign, but much of their coverage doesn't. Early on Wednesday the channel aired the live footage of the attack, stating that they would replay it, "once per hour." After an onslaught of backlash from social media and viewers, the station said they would no longer air the video. However, it is still available on their website, hyperlinked into their coverage.
The earlier graphic was gone by Wednesday evening, replaced by a large photo of Flanagan, with a headline about his fax to ABC News. But CNN wasn't alone in their coverage of Flanagan — ABC News ran a similar graphic. The Washington Post ran a zoomed-in screenshot from the initial video of Flanagan pointing a gun at Ward, with a second photo of Flanagan inset, pictured above.
This is the normal treatment applied to most mass murder stories, but with Flanagan especially, it doesn't sit well. Whatever his motives might have been, it's clear that the main goal was to gain attention. He planned the attack in order to gain the most exposure possible: He timed his attack knowing it would be broadcast live on television, he released his own videos of the attack, and he sent a disturbed manifesto directly to a major news outlet. He literally handed the story to the media.
This is why adopting the No Notoriety campaign in this specific instance should be important, and encouraged. Flanagan went to great lengths to ensure that he would dominate the news cycle, and it's difficult to not feel that the media owes Parker and Ward — our peers — the respect of not allowing it. Many on social media have chosen to share a smiling photo of Parker and Ward in lieu of images from the video, and others are refusing to watch the video.
These outlets have no responsibility to adhere to the No Notoriety campaign. And in journalism, there is a strange grey area between trying to honor victims while staying on top of a story — finding the middle ground can be difficult, and balancing ethics and ratings is even harder. But if you are journalist, consider being deliberate in how you frame and present your story. Don't become part of Flanagan's plan. Don't help encourage individuals like this.
Image: Alison Parker/Facebook