Faithful readers know that sometimes I love to not only tackle sports-related issues, but as a former journalist I often also like to tackle issues related to the media and its role in American society.
The killings at Virginia Tech provided a flashpoint event this week that raises a lot of quesitons about how to cover an event such as this. They happen so infrequently -- and the technology changes so rapidly -- that media outlets have to make many important decisions on the fly without a lot of precedent to refer to.
A big decision was faced -- and continues to be faced -- by NBC with regards to the video the killer sent them immediately before going on his rampage. What to do with it? How to handle it? Those decisions were made early on, and with them NBC gained a fair amount of criticism.
Now, the question remains: Should it be released in its entirety on the Internet?
Many argue that this is precisely what the killer wanted, and that we're providing a blueprint for potential copycat killers who want their stories to be heard. But at least one media blogger -- Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine.com -- thinks the world should be able to make the choice of whether to view it, saying "that horse is already out of that barn." I have a hard time disagreeing.
The essential infrastructure of news and media has changed forever: There is no control point anymore. When anyone and everyone — witnesses, criminals, victims, commenters, officials, and journalists — can publish and broadcast as events happen, there is no longer any guarantee that news and society itself can be filtered, packaged, edited, sanitized, polished, secured.
Like it or not, that’s the way it is. But before we start wringing our hands over the unique, one-in-a-billion exception to all rules — the mass murderer with a camera — let’s make sure we remember that this openness is a great and good change. It enables us all have a voice and to hear new voices.
In other words, the greater good outweighs the potential negatives in this specific case. I tend to agree.