At the beginning of the semester, I assigned students in my Journalism 102 Intro to Journalism class the task of creating a personal blog. Seemed a good motivator for resurrecting my blog, it’s been far too long. So, here goes …
In teaching various lessons to help students become better media consumers, we recently covered a topic I did not assume would apply to our own campus. Yesterday Central Michigan University experienced the all-too-common tragedy of an active shooter on campus. The result — two dead and a campus and entire community locked down during a 12-plus hour manhunt for the shooter.
In class, we addressed the topic of navigating the media during breaking news of an active shooter. We initially focused on the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014. While progressing through the different lessons associated with that shooting, news broke of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Fla. Having a current event happening before our eyes (sadly) allowed the opportunity to apply firsthand some of the strategies of tracking a breaking news story. Little did we know ours would be the next school shooting story to break in the news.
Armed with tips from WNYC’s “On the Media” podcast’s Breaking News Consumer Handbook helped in following ongoing news reports as the story evolved. However, no handbook in the world can prepare you for an active shooter at your school in your hometown. Consumed with fear and uncertainty, you can never get information fast enough.
As suggested in OTR’s Consumer Handbook, tuning in to the most local media sources served well.Being closest to the incident, they had the most immediate access to the scene, to local sources and the ability to push out information fastest. Student reporters at the on-campus newspaper CM Life and staffers at the Mt. Pleasant community newspaper The Morning Sun were quick to report the latest happenings.
They also served as sources for other regional, state and national news outlets. They did a great job providing accurate up-to-the-minute reports. The efforts of CM Life’s student reporter staff did not go unnoticed. Their dedication to reporting the story meant forgoing spring break plans. It didn’t matter. They stayed with it, reported late into the night and have continued to do so. CM Life has received applause from fellow student newspapers. Even rivals from Oklahoma State’s student publication, O’Colly’s offered praise to CM Life for coverage of the event, and their ability to depend on the reporting of another student news outlet as the best source of information. Proof again of the importance of local media in the face of breaking news.
Watching, listening and reading posts throughout the day, the desperation for information to restore a sense of safety grew, and with it the increase of speculation, assumptions, and rumors. Thus, making it even more important to turn to news sources closest to the incident, able to verify information before reporting. A lesson learned in the classroom, but not expected to apply in our own backyard.