Ethical Implications of Communicating Risk in the Media: A Heuristic for Reporting on Crisis Events with a Focus on Mass School Shootings



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This dissertation looks at the idea of “if it bleeds it leads” (Sontag, 2003, p.18), an expression that implies all news concerns violence, and applies the ethics of care to the rhetoric used in the coverage of crisis events, with a particular focus on mass school shootings. Using frame analysis I analyzed the coverage provided to the public in the two weeks after the Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Parkland school shootings to create a heuristic to limit undue trauma to victims and the general audience during the coverage of crisis events. As shown by the Center for Disease Control, contagion events (or copycat events) can be limited by following reporting guidelines that focus media coverage on the victims of the event and away from the perpetrator. This heuristic is meant to be used in the coverage of crisis events to work toward what Aristotle calls a hexis (Aristotle, 1999), or habit, of honest rhetoric, and create awareness of the repercussions of some of the media’s communication methods.