It’s time to rethink how journalism covers guns and mass shootings

The last two weeks brought new rounds of horror in America, as two mass shootings—one in Atlanta, and one in Boulder—claimed the lives of 18 people.

Some media outlets portrayed the carnage as a departure from a gun-violence calm brought about by the covid lockdown. In fact, 2020 was the deadliest year for gun violence in two decades, with nearly 20,000 Americans killed, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. The majority of the victims were people of color.

If it seemed like gun violence had ebbed during covid and the final year of Trump, it is only because the press lost interest. Gun deaths, it would seem, simply couldn’t compete with lies about a stolen election and debates about whether we should be wearing masks.

It is time to radically reconsider how guns and gun deaths are covered by the press in America. On April 6, CJR, in partnership with our Columbia Journalism School colleagues at the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, is convening a virtual summit to rewrite how we think about gun coverage. We’re gathering journalists, academics, and activists to find ways to keep this unique American tragedy in the spotlight, to explore why it continues unabated, and to brainstorm new ways to tell the story of possible solutions. We’ll be joined by colleagues from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Trace, and The Guardian, and others.

Please join us by signing up here. We will share more details on speakers and schedules in the days ahead.

To bring home the need for a new approach, starting today we’ve placed news boxes around New York featuring broadsheets we’re calling “The Inevitable News.” The papers are 14 pages of fill-in-the-blanks news stories, featuring details from a selection of mass shootings since the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Each article is identical; only the victims’ names and locations are changed.

Those newspapers, created with our pro bono ad partners at Area 23/An FCB Health Network Company, show how gun violence has been treated as rote, and inevitable, by the nation’s media.

That is an approach that no longer works. Join us as we begin the conversation to start again.

Update: You can now watch a recording of the panel below

 

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Kyle Pope is the editor in chief and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review.