My Fellow Americans,
After the events in Newtown, we woke up in the aftermath of unimaginable horror. We wonder how we'll ever feel safe sending our children to school again and how we'll even discuss these events with them. There's no way to protect them from the stories; if you don't tell them, someone else will.
By the dawn of the next day, however, I believe that there is more than one entity responsible for perpetrating horrors upon us. Yes, a 20-year-old committed a heinous act that will affect the families, friends and communities in Connecticut. But the horrors the rest of us are facing are mainly caused by another perpetrator: the media.
They have gone too far.
In the rush to put information, any information, out to the public, and in this world of 24-hour news cycles, journalistic integrity and the truth went out the window faster than a cute kitten picture spreads across the Internet.
Major news organizations put out incorrect, misleading and inflammatory information. They caused panic when they reported that a second gunman had made his getaway. They cried "fire" in a crowded movie theater.
There is a young man who is living three nightmares today: his mother was brutally murdered... by his brother; his brother committed a crime more heinous than anything we've seen since 9/11; and, he was named a child-killer while his picture was shown on national television and throughout the Internet. You can't un-ring that bell. There is no taking that back.
Ryan Lanza will live with the first two nightmares and the ripples they will cause for the rest of his life. The third nightmare was absolutely, 100 percent, plus checks and balances, avoidable. It was pure frenzy by the media in a fast-moving situation. It was salacious. It was dangerous. It was needless.
This has got to stop. So many times we decry the media's behavior and yet we do nothing about it.
I am a former member of the media myself: a starry-eyed journalism student from Northeastern; an awe-struck co-op at the Boston Globe; a freelance writer; the associate publisher of a statewide business magazine. No, I didn't make a full career out of journalism, but I was there long enough to know what's right and what's wrong and this -- what has passed for reporting on this horror of horrors -- is wrong. It is not reporting. It is gossip-mongering. It is the desire to be "first," to "scoop," to get the eyeballs, whether it was on broadcast or online properties.
The media is caught up in the rat race and they push for ever more speed and yet trade off accuracy -- a trade I'm not willing to accept. Just because we have the opportunity to get our news 24/7 doesn't mean that's a good thing. If any assignment, desk, copy or web editor were to say that there's a need to be first, to get the information out, to report, I would tell them bullshit.
The American people do not demand gossip, especially in times of crisis. They do not demand misinformation and untruths. What really would happen if the media reported that they don't know what happened and there's no information to report yet? And what if they reported that until there was real information to report? What if we let first responders, police and other agencies actually do their job and then reported the news?
Isn't that what we're taught in crisis public relations? If you don't have the answer, say you don't have the answer. Don't lie. Don't make things up. Don't spread misinformation.
Reporting the news is a huge responsibility and a critical public service. The media did us all a great public disservice yesterday -- and don't go looking for an apology for their crimes and misdeeds. All you'll hear is justification and excuses.
But what's our recourse? What can we do? It's a cultural thing, I'm hearing and reading all over facebook.
Ahhhh, but isn't that the rub? We determine the culture. We say what's right and wrong. If they're actual, formally-trained journalists, they simply report it. Isn't that what journalists do?
I believe that we the people have the ability to not only send a message but to change the way that we accept our news. Together we have a power greater than the media will ever have. We have the power to hold them accountable and hit them where it hurts.
What is their main life source? Advertisers, ratings. Those depend fully on us as a people.
I think we should boycott any news organization that reported misinformation, gossip and untruths.
I think we should boycott any news organization that showed Ryan Lanza's face or named him as the gunman.
I think we should boycott any news organization that exploited a child from that school -- or tried to -- for their own gain. This, to me, has to be the most heinous of heinous acts yesterday. Leave the children -- who have just experienced something no human being, let alone a small child, should -- alone. Leave them in their parents' arms and leave the parents alone as well.
I think we should start holding our news organizations accountable for doing their job at the highest levels, just like the rest of us are every day. If you agree, visit the hastily-posted site: www.HoldTheMediaAccountable.wordpress.com and join the conversation.