To the Editor:
I commend the media for respecting the wishes of those in Newtown, Conn., by staying away from this community on the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. (“Media Restraint on Newtown Anniversary?,” Education and the Media, www.edweek.org, Dec. 12, 2013). Hopefully it can be a starting point for addressing the overwhelming issue of school shootings that have persisted in our country.
As the superintendent of a school district in Wisconsin, I tell our staff, faculty, and students that having a well-rehearsed comprehensive emergency plan is only a start. We need to be vigilant and aware of unusual behavior of anyone who comes to our schools, which includes students and parents.
When I was in high school in the 1970s, an older schoolmate of mine committed suicide. I recall that the funeral was held in the school auditorium and covered by the local media.
We later learned that by publicly glorifying such stories, by putting their faces and life stories in the media, we may have been inadvertently feeding and encouraging the same actions by other teens who contemplated suicide. For the most part, we no longer publicize information about individuals who commit suicide. I applaud the media for choosing to step back and avoid drawing attention to these deaths.
If the media adopted the practice of dealing with mass shootings in a similar fashion, the number of subsequent occurrences may decrease. The recent shootings at Colorado’s Arapahoe High School, however, attracted the usual media attention. The shooter was quickly identified. A picture of the shooter, with a smiling face, sporting a shirt and tie, has appeared countless times in news reports.
I believe the media want to do what is best for our society and report the news as fairly and accurately as possible. Journalists have proven they can balance the need to report and cover news events with the need to enhance safety for everyone in the future.
We need to stop giving unnecessary coverage to these incidents, or we risk providing a platform for despicable notoriety for the impulsive person who contemplates the next evil plot.
Ronald J. Walsh
Elk Mound Area School District
Elk Mound, Wis.
The author serves on the board of directors of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, which recently named him Wisconsin’s 2014 superintendent of the year.
A version of this article appeared in the January 29, 2014 edition of Education Week as School Violence Coverage Should Be Measured, Limited