How can journalists report responsibly on tragedies such as the shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo?
These are difficult but vital questions to answer, according to Dannagal Young, an University of Delaware professor who studies news stories' impact on the public.
Her research focuses on whether media biases favor covering certain events or individuals, rather than looking at the causes of tragedies like mass shootings.
This is what we call episodically framed stories and thematically framed tales.
Young explains why this is important, how media should cover mass shootings and the question that journalists should ask.
This interview was edited to be more concise and clear.
Thematically or episodically framed news stories
In the early 1990s, research was done to determine if the story's format could influence the attributions that readers or viewers might make. If you tell a news story about individuals, individual problems, and follow that story's narrative arc, does it make sense to expect readers or listeners to take responsibility for the stories and seek out solutions?
On whether the Uvalde shootings were covered episodically or thematically
It all depends on the media outlet we are talking to. There is a lot of attention given to thematically-framed coverage, which examines the history of gun control in America, the rates of gun violence by state, and so forth. These stories are thematically constructed to contextualize Texas' events within a wider context aEUR" a cultural, historical, and political framework. That's thematic.
As the story progressed, we learned about the failures of the Uvalde Police, and school police, but some stories tended to be more focused on individuals than the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.
How people perceive news differently when it is episodic rather than thematic
Our brains will activate constructs about the person at this moment when a story is told as if it were about individuals. Naturally, we want to protect ourselves by saying, "Well, this terrible thing wouldn't happen, because it happened to these people in that place." We'll then extrapolate and say, "If these things are not done, I'm out of this place and I'm also not those people, this won't happen to me."
This is in contrast to the way the topic was covered, which is more generalized and focused on systemic factors that could contribute to the trend. It will encourage people to ask: What can the system do? What type of legislation could be passed to address this problem?
The question journalists must ask is:
All journalists should ask the following question: How can Americans better understand this issue, not just today? What will help them determine what actions they can take? What legislation could be possible? These are the questions to ask.
Question: Does she believe journalists can do it without sounding too much like advocates?
Yes. It sounds like I'm talking about gun legislation and reform. There are also important conversations about how we handle mental health issues and how we deal to extremist groups. These conversations would allow Americans to understand not only the event but also the larger issues that underlie it.