Tech-empowered Parkland students are changing the rules of mass-shooting coverage for the better

Student uses cell phone to show SWAT team entering classroom at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Student uses cell phone to show SWAT team entering classroom at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. (Screen Grab/ CNN Reliable Sources)

One of the major media stories from the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last week was the way students used technology to cover the story as it unfolded and are now using social media to play a major role in shaping the national conversation about it.

They are also showing the kind of moral leadership on gun control and school safety that could shame Congress and the administration for offering only platitudes and little or no action.


News of the students’ planned march on Washington had all the public affairs showing buzzing Sunday morning.

Host Brian Stelter and I agreed on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” that students live-tweeting from inside the school during the attack and then using social media to join in and shape the conversation about the shooting that left 17 dead are important developments in how such tragic events are covered.


While live-tweeting and streaming aren’t new, the extent to which the students led the coverage during the event and then took control of the conversation afterward are.

Carly Novell, a student at the high school, used social media to shut down Tomi Lahren, a Fox News contributor, who had tried to politicize the tragedy.

Students who escaped the Florida school shooting focused their anger Sunday at Trump, contending that his response to the attack has been needlessly divisive.

At 10:29 on the night of the shooting, Lahren tweeted: “Can the Left let the families grieve for even 24 hours before they push their anti-gun and anti-gunowner agenda? My goodness. This isn't about a gun it's about another lunatic. #FloridaShooting.”

The next morning Novell tweeted back: "I was hiding in a closet for 2 hours. It was about guns. You weren't there, you don't know how it felt. Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings. This IS about guns and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns."

Another student from the school tweeted: “A gun has killed 17 of my fellow classmates. A gun has traumatized my friends. My entire school, traumatized from this tragedy. This could have been prevented. Please stfu tomi.”

This is the same Tomi Lahren who called Black Lives Matter the “new KKK” in a tweet in the wake of five Dallas police officers being shot and killed following a peaceful rally in 2016.

Her tweet at the time: “Meet the new KKK, they call themselves ‘Black Lives Matter’ but make no mistake their goals are far from equality. #Dallas #bluelivesmatter.”

I was on “Reliable Sources” with her the following Sunday and had a chance to tell her how reckless, reprehensible and ignorant that tweet was.

Thousands of angry students, parents and residents demanded stricter gun control laws as new details were revealed about the Florida school shooting suspect.

"As a journalist, what you did appalls me,” I told her.

But this time, some of the survivors told her in the vocabulary of Twitter, and I believe it was far more powerful.

Stelter and I also talked about the need to be careful in protecting minors who are involved in these horrible events, and always seeking parental permission before interviewing or making their words and identities public.

We also talked about journalists becoming advocates for stricter gun control regulations. This is part of a larger conversation about journalists becoming activists in general that caught fire during the 2016 presidential election.


And Stelter did something I had not seen anywhere else in national media. He took a moment to tell viewers who Marjory Stoneman Douglas was. She was a journalist and activist who led an exemplary life. A perfect fact for the discussion about journalists as activists.

See the CNN video here. And you can see a review of our segment at The Cut.

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