Last week in school, I was sitting in class learning about Roanoke, an island colony founded by Sir Walter Raleigh, in U.S. history class. A few days later, what was etched in my brain as a flash card term was all over the news. Two journalists from WDBJ7, a local news station, were shot and killed near Roanoke, Virginia during a live taping.
I first heard about the shooting in my second period class last Wednesday, just hours after it happened. Reporter Alison Parker and her cameraman Adam Ward were fatally shot near Roanoke while filming an interview with the head of the local Chamber of Commerce, Vicki Gardner. The live broadcast was seen on television by viewers at home as well as by Parker and Ward’s colleagues in the WDBJ control room.
The two journalists were both killed immediately and Gardner was injured. The gunman, later identified as a disgruntled former WDBJ employee, died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds during a car chase with police.
Regardless of the circumstances of the crime and the background of the shooter, which has thoroughly scrutinized, the real question proposed by the tragedy is whether or not it’s appropriate to show the footage.
The umbrella of those subject to witnessing the homicide was massive to start; it included all of those watching the local news channel and the employees of the station, including Ward’s fiancee. Immediately after this more intimate audience witnessed the crime, screens all over the country began lighting up with the horrific WDBJ scene.
News publications pounced to push out a story on the shooting, but in heat of the race to publishing an article, the ethics of showing the footage may not have been considered.
Prominent publications like as Business Insider and BuzzFeed have already released the video. It’s a journalist’s job to inform, and the situation could have been explained without the aid of the footage. I believe subjecting anyone to watching someone’s death is unconstitutional. You may argue that there’s not “subjection” at all, that the viewer’s the one who has to click play, but with online features like Twitter’s autoplay, there’s not always a choice for those who aren’t inclined to see the video.
Taking a step back, posting the footage is insensitive not only for the sake of us as viewers, but for the respect of the victims. There’s know way of knowing how Parker or Ward would have felt about the circulation of the video, whether or not they saw it as exploitative or informative, but granting them and their family the dignity of privatizing the footage should be a priority.
The plan to “keep the conversation” of gun control going has instituted a demand for publication of the footage. It is unfortunately true that time after time, our country lets the significance of tragedies like this one taper away with the headlines. As news stories on the latest gun violence fade away, so does conversation.
It’s believed that posting the video will give people a shock, and maybe, just maybe, scare them into fighting for gun control. But if people don’t already care enough about the lives we’ve lost in the past years to support gun control, then there’s no way the footage will disturb these people into changing their mind. It’s just another news story that’s bound to fade from their minds as they gaze at a deer through the scope on their rifle.
Family, friends, and those influenced by the situation have began lobbying for gun control. The shooting alone should have arisen some sort of disturbance in everyone, so to those who felt footage was necessary to attract people to the subject as well as those who were only interested in the video itself and not the story’s context: reconsider your agenda. What’s important? That we raise awareness about the fact that it happened or that we work towards making sure it doesn’t continue happening.
Consciousness of our lacking gun control obviously needs to be raised, but using the exploitative footage to do so is shameless, unjustified, and of no purpose. Instead, you should continue to support and fight for gun control long after the deaths of Alison Parker and Adam Ward turns from breaking news, to a past event. No one should need a visual aid to remind them of our country’s failure to properly regulate guns.