April 20, 1999. It’s one of those dates generations remember. I was on my way to Burlingame to pick up the Washburn student newspaper, where I was editor-in-chief. I remember the news of the Columbine shooting breaking on the radio and hurrying home to watch a few minutes about it on TV.
I remember images of students running from a school, scared beyond belief. I remember parents in tears, faces in their hands. I remember a scene that looked more like a war zone than a place of learning. And, above all, I remember the overwhelming sense of sadness.
I also remember writing a column that day for the student newspaper. It would have been one of my last, as I was finishing up college. I don’t remember much of what I wrote. I know the words weren’t about gun control, or about video games being the culprit (remember, video games took A LOT of blame back in those days).
I didn’t have answers back then, and I don’t today as I read about the horrific school shooting in Connecticut. In addition to marveling at the decay of responsible reporting over the past 13 years, I’m trying to figure out how in the world you get to the point in your life that you think shooting a bunch of people who had nothing to do with your issues is the answer.
POINTING THE FINGER
We were raised with guns. I can handle anything from a pistol to a shot gun. I also know I don’t own one. That’s my choice.
Would gun control have prevented this tragedy? I’m not so sure. We live in a society where you can get your hands on just about anything you want (with the exception of sanity), illegal or not. I’m inclined to think if the shooter wanted to kill that badly, he would have found a way to get a gun.
On the other hand, I’d rather not see this post or tweet again: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Actually, both do. You probably don’t attempt to kill a person if you’re holding a pencil.
Either way, I was disgusted that both sides felt so compelled to use the shooting as a platform minutes after the event. We should be focusing more on helping the families and children in Newtown, Conn. The selfishness and self-righteousness of many people in the country says plenty.
GET IT RIGHT, PLEASE
Accuracy. Good lord was I tired of hearing that word by the time I graduated. “You’re nothing if you’re not accurate,” one of my professors would say.
Thing is, I took that for granted back then. Not because I didn’t think it was important, but because I thought it was commonsense. If you don’t have the right information in your story, who’s going to trust you?
That seems like a long, long time ago. Time and time again, journalists have been absolutely torched in social media trying to be the first to report a story. Today, it was media outlets reporting the wrong name and displaying the wrong photo of the shooter.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter. Social media is wonderful. But it’s also been a significant factor in the erosion of responsibility and accountability in the media. It’s a simple rule, folks: Don’t run the story until you’re 100 percent sure it’s ACCURATE.