As a person who has worked in the newspaper industry for years, first as a freelance columnist and later as an employee of The Haverhill Gazette, I know the media is supposed to deliver the news.

When I pick up the paper I expect to read about what is happening in my community, state and country.

It’s a given that television stations will air stories about things happening in local communities, across the nation and throughout the world. We, the viewers, expect that. We want that. But there are times when we must ask how much is enough — especially when it comes to events like the shootings at Virginia Tech.

How many times are we supposed to view the video of gunman Cho Seung-Hui? How many times are we supposed to see the images of the students and professors who lost their lives?

Where do we draw the line? How do we satisfy the public’s need to know, and at the same time, be able to refer to ourselves as responsible journalists?

I knew I’d had enough of the Virginia Tech story when, in the midst of the spring floods devastating my own community, I could not get myself to turn on the television news just to catch the weather. I wanted to know when the rain would stop, and when the river would recede, but I didn’t want to see one more second of Virginia Tech coverage. It was making me physically ill. I’d been watching the news with one hand over my stomach for days.

As a parent of a son, 19, and a daughter, 23, it was difficult to imagine that it could have been them. It was heart-wrenching to see photographs of victims on the television screen: young students so full of potential. Beautiful smiles with eyes aglow with hope. It was equally hard to see the faces of the dedicated professors who had been guiding them.

Now the public is questioning how the shooting was covered. People ask whether the video should have been aired, and if so, why so many times? Even more upsetting is that entertainment shows aired the video, with far more sensational angles to the killings.

The media blitz reminded me of videos of the planes flying into the twin towers on September 11. We saw them over and over, until people felt emotionally traumatized. Back then psychologists warned that watching that kind of video repeatedly can be detrimental, especially to children. Should parents have to remove children from the room because the news is on?

The news industry has a responsibility to get current events to its customers, but it must be done in a responsible way. The debate seems to be over the definition of responsible.

Is it necessary to call the shootings at Virginia Tech a massacre or a bloodbath? Was it responsible to air that video? Some students at Virginia Tech who knew Cho Seung-Hui said the media played right into his hands by making him famous, or worse, a hero.

Perhaps it’s time to evaluate how such tragic events are covered.



Jean MacDougall-Tattan is editor of The Haverhill Gazette.

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