No Notoriety campaign aims to stop news outlets from focusing too much attention on those behind mass homicides 

What does society lose when the media withholds the name of killers and denies perpetrators the attention they crave?

Created by the Teves family after the murder of Alex Teves in the 2012 Aurora, Colo., movie theatre shooting, “No Notoriety” aims to limit the media’s attention on the killer. The premise of the campaign is that the notoriety gained from media outlets covering these types of tragedies encourages more shootings. The Teves family and others who’ve joined the campaign believe that these mass killers feed off of the attention that the media gives them.

Mass murder is not simple enough to pinpoint media attention as the only culprit, but after saying the killer’s name once, is it really necessary to continue to blast the name on every outlet?

The campaign challenges all media to limit the name, likeness, and image of the killer after the initial identification.

The alleged Aurora killer is currently facing trial in Denver, Colo. Brian Stelter of CNN’s Reliable Sources spoke recently to a few of the parents of the Aurora shooting victims on their campaign to get the media to stop using the names of murderers.

Prior to watching this episode of Reliable Sources, I assumed that notoriety was a good thing. Expose the killer and ruin them; let everyone know the face and name of the monster so that they could never recover from it. But upon reflection I realize that I have never had to go through something like this. Had that been me watching the news, waiting for information on my loved one, I too would be angered by the constant media attention of the killer, just as the parents interviewed felt.

Caren Teves, mother of Alex Teves one of the victims from the Aurora shooting, had this to say about what the media should consider before writing or broadcasting stories involving murder: “Stand in the shoes of a parent who had a child brutally murdered by someone that their only motivation was to have their face splattered all over every ounce of media out there. And I have a feeling that whoever writes this article will try their best to limit the use of that name.”

It’s true, there are other more important elements of the story, such as who the victims are, what happened, etc.; repeatedly showing a face, naming and speculating the mental state of the alleged killer does nothing for anyone. This also perpetuates the notion that mental illness is a synonym for murderer.

News obviously needs to be delivered, but names don’t have to be repeated. Once the name of the murderer is said, a picture briefly flashed, it shouldn’t be repeated over and over.

Otherwise, as suggested through the “No Notoriety” campaign, it can lead to a kind of celebrity status for killers. Aurora, Sandy Hook, the Boston bombing – there are faces that we remember behind each of these tragedies, but unfortunately they are likely not the faces of the victims.

For the most part the specific names and faces of the victims go unnoticed. Yet Rolling Stone magazine posted the alleged murderer of the Boston marathon bombing on its cover – hair in his face with an expression of indifference; he has the cool rock star look to him.

It’s not only the issue of the focus being primarily on the killer, it is also how these types of stories are delivered. A lot of times any mass murder case is reported frantically — CNN, Fox News, etc. constantly go on, and on, with very little information actually being reported. This kind of reporting does little to ease the public’s safety concerns.

Thankfully, Canadian media outlets often differ in how these kinds of stories are executed. “No Notoriety” is a good cause but it is not something that Canada, at large, needs. And quite frankly, American news outlets could learn a thing or two about how Canadian media deals with these situations.

Take for instance the murder of Nathan Cirillo, last October, in Ottawa. The name of the soldier is still everywhere, yet the name of the murderer is not as commonly known. The way the media reported this event was diligent and to the point.

The coverage of this tragedy was not over sensualized and facts were reported in a calm manner.

Another instance was coverage of the mass stabbings in Calgary last April. The names remembered are Joshua Hunter, Kaiti Perras, Jordan Segura, Lawrence Hong and Zackariah Rathwell. Various news outlets had written pieces on these victims, dedicating pages for each victim. Although the alleged killer was named multiple times and his name is still remembered by many, the bulk of the attention still went to the victims.

Just because it is a journalist’s responsibility to report information doesn’t mean that it should be at the cost of basic human courtesy. We take special care with rape victims and any issues dealing with children. So why can murders not be another instance of protecting the vulnerable through more sensitive reporting?

The victims are already dead, they are not vulnerable anymore, but the families and friends are, as the families of the Aurora victims have so eloquently explained.

The name(s) and face(s) of the killer(s) should of course be given to the public because it is in the public’s best interest to know things that could potentially put them in harm – although I agree with the “No Notoriety” campaign that it should be limited to only once or twice.

Now, as a journalism student, I understand that it is important to give both sides of the story. The public has a fascination with murderers and killers; everyone wants to know how someone could be capable of murder. But we have to ask ourselves if what we are doing is causing harm.

Brian Stelter chose to not name the Aurora killer in his CNN coverage of the interview; this was a step in the right direction for the American news outlet.

myohannes@cjournal.ca

Photo by Roger H. Goun/Flickr, Creative Commons Licenced