In the wake of mass shootings, most recently the Saugus High School shooting that occurred yesterday in California, people often demand more from Congress. They demand more from the National Rifle Association. They demand more from the schools and disciplinary groups that fail to properly report and remove threats before they do the unthinkable. However, one cause is instead focusing on the culture of mass shootings and how the media covers them — by virtually erasing all mentions and pictures of the shooter. It is called the “No Notoriety” campaign.
A strong reminder to media: approach w/responsible coverage as details emerge from #SaugusHighSchool shooting. Aspects&facts can be reported w/o giving notoriety to the perpetrator. Holding all impacted in our💔hearts. #nonotoriety #SantaClarita
— NoNotoriety (@NoNotoriety) November 14, 2019
“No Notoriety” was started in 2012 by Tom and Caren Teves, who lost their son Alex in the Aurora shooting. It challenges journalists to make no reference to the shooter. Do not show their picture. Do not show their name. Do not publicize an analysis of where they came from, what their personality was like and what motivated them to commit their atrocious act. Do not show any of it. According to USA Today, prominent journalists like Anderson Cooper and Megyn Kelly have jumped on the bandwagon.
According to their website, the campaign says their goal is to “challenge the media—calling for responsible media coverage for the sake of public safety when reporting on individuals who commit or attempt acts of rampage mass violence thereby depriving violent like-minded individuals the media celebrity and media spotlight they so crave.”
“No Notoriety” has also developed a list of protocol to help journalists and individuals alike make sure they are not sensationalizing a mass murderer, according to their website. They include the following:
It is far easier to remember the shooter’s name in a mass shooting than the numerous innocent lives that person took away. A 2018 study published in the American Behavioral Scientist journal, which analyzed shooter-victim photo ratios in newspapers for three days after the mass murders at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and Umpqua Community College, found that of the 4,934 total photos published:
Virginia Tech: Front-page shooter photos outnumber individual victim photos by a ratio of 42:1
Sandy Hook: Front-page shooter photos outnumber individual victim photos by a ratio of 3:1
UCC: Front-page shooter photos outnumber individual victim photos by a ratio of 15:1
Jillian Peterson, a criminologist at Hamline University, also told NPR in August that “There is this element of wanting notoriety in death that you don’t have in life. So when one happens and it makes headlines and the names and pictures are everywhere and the whole world is talking about it, that becomes something that other people see as a possibility for themselves.”
In 2015, however, the Editorial Board at USA Today presented a differing view: The erasing of a shooter’s identity takes an important role away from journalists who are tasked with pursuing the truth and justice.
“The biggest downside of ‘No Notoriety,’ despite the valid goals of its founders, is if it prompts news organizations to forget the essence of their job: finding facts and reporting them, without fear or favor,” the editorial says. “Once the news media get caught up in the potential consequences, it will infect everything they cover.”
The role of the media in inspiring copycat mass shootings still requires more research. However, it is important to note that in many past cases shooters have discussed, either in manifestos or personal writings, their fascination and marvel with prominent past mass shootings and their desire to carry out these acts further.
Thumbnail courtesy of @NoNotoriety
Taylor Harton is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.