News Coverage Of Terror: More Harm Than Good?

May 26, 2017

News of a suicide bomber outside a pop concert in Manchester, England earlier this week horrified us.

As expected, cable news shows and online publications responded right away – piecing some of the breaking news story together using a slew of social media.

One result was an endless loop of cell phone videos on our computers and TVs from victims at the event.

“The first thing I did when I heard about this attack, I went to look for the video. That’s the thing most of us did,” said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. “News organizations know that this is how the audience behaves, so they also immediately look for video and images, mostly generated from people who were at the event.”

That decision to play the same images over and over again by news organizations is problematic. Poynter’s Indira Lakshmanan pointed out the images may be more about sensationalism than helping the public better understand the risk and reality of terrorism.

McBride said guides, such as one put together by the United Nation’s educational arm called UNESCO, can help media report more responsibly about terrorism.

Unfortunately, McBride admits, ratings are the guide in decision making in some newsrooms. That’s partly because that’s what the people want.

“They get away with reporting just the horror because the audience keeps coming for it,” she said.