Reporting on murder without glorifying the killer
Journalists tell stories about people from all walks of life: government officials, athletes, business owners, community members and – sometimes – cold-blooded killers.
Tom and Caren Teves were on vacation in Maui in 2012 when they got the news: their beloved 24-year-old son, Alex, had been gunned down in a Colorado cinema. Between frantic calls to the police and family, they turned on the news. Photos of the killer’s face were plastered all over the screen. There he was – red-haired and wide-eyed – singed into their memories forever.
The couple found out that Alex had been killed trying to shield his girlfriend from the bullets.
Just a few days after the murder of Alex, the Teves family founded an online campaign called No Notoriety. It calls for journalists to limit the name and face of killers in the media.
According to Dr. Michael Arntfield, a criminologist, author and professor at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, there’s a fine line between documenting a horrendous crime and glorifying a psychopath.
Fortunately, there are strategies to report on horrific crimes such as school shootings and terrorism without glorifying the perpetrators.
Arntfield says that journalists should not place excessive focus on the killer. That means showing the killer’s face as little as possible and never sharing their social media posts.
“The media needs to transparently depict these people as disordered losers instead of making them spooky villains,” Arntfield says. “Instead of inscribing them with all these mysterious qualities, let’s call them what they are, which in most cases is psychopaths.”
Don’t Name Them is another online campaign. It was created by the ALERRT Center at Texas State University. The Center has experience training law enforcement and media how to respond to shooters. ALERRT has partnered with the FBI, and received over $56 million in federal and state funding.
Don’t Name Them has a simple mantra: don’t sensationalize the names of shooters in police briefings or in reporting. They also link to No Notoriety, the campaign started by the Teves family, on their website.
Arntfield co-authored a study of the 2017 Las Vegas massacre with D.J. Williams, a professor of social work at Idaho State University. In their study, Arntfield and Williams cited an article published in the American Behavioral Scientist journal. Written by Adam Lankford, a criminology professor at the University of Alabama, the paper is called Don’t Name Them, Don’t Show Them, But Report Everything Else: A Pragmatic Proposal for Denying Mass Killers the Attention They Seek and Deterring Future Offenders.