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Five takeaways from media coverage of the Maryland Rite Aid shooting

Five takeaways from media coverage of the Maryland Rite Aid shooting
Members of the media broadcast in front of a Rite Aid distribution center where three workers and the gunman died. A woman opened fire at the business center, killing the three and wounding three others. The suspect died of a self-inflicted gunshot. (Mark Makela / Getty Images)

Sadly, Maryland media are getting all too familiar with covering mass shootings.

The shooting today at a Rite Aid distribution center in Harford County that left four dead and three injured comes less than three months after the shooting at The Capital Gazette in Annapolis that left five dead.

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It also comes 11 months after a shooting at a kitchen countertop company in Edgewood, about 10 miles from today’s attack. Three were killed and two were injured in that 2017 shooting.

Here are five takeaways from what I saw as I waded through the coverage today. There was some improvement in terms of trying to be right instead of first, but there is also a glaring need to rethink our assumptions about how we cover these stories.

1. I was impressed with the restraint shown in not rushing to name the shooter, who reportedly took her own life after killing three workers at Rite Aid.

During a 3 p.m. news briefing, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said his office had identified the shooter, but he was not yet prepared to release her name even though he acknowledged it was already out on social media.

WBAL’s Jayne Miller, again the strongest reporter on the scene for any channel, clearly had the name from sources. But she and the station held off even as they were searching electronic court records and had reporters at the home addresses on record for the shooter in Baltimore County.

Good for Miller and WBAL checking and double-checking. The Hearst-owned Channel 11 has become the TV news leader in this market, and the restraint it showed is a good model for its competitors to try to emulate.

Given the state of media today, if you are first, you are probably wrong. Social media is wall to wall with platforms that don’t give a damn about being right or wrong. When they are dead wrong, they simply “update” or stealth edit. There are no corrections anymore except by legacy platforms.

The suspected shooter was later identified by Gahler as 26-year-old Snochia Moseley.

2. I didn’t like the cameras at several stations filming folks outside a volunteer firehouse where families came to get news about their loved ones who were in the Rite Aid warehouse at the time of the shooting.

I know TV loves emotion, and I have no problem with that — if in a situation like this, the emotion is joy because a loved one is safe.

But that’s not the way life often works. Some folks get the devastating news inside one of those centers that their loved one is seriously injured or dead. And I do not think the media should intrude on that kind of grief.

Thursday afternoon, I saw a young man with his T-shirt pulled up over his head like a nun’s habit. People came over and sympathetically rubbed his shoulders and back.

The camera did not show his face, which was partially hidden by having the shirt over his head. But it did spend a long time showing him from the back and side.

If I were news director or general manager, I would have told the producer to end that shot and move away from all people outside that building who looked as if they might be grieving.

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3. Overhead helicopter shots, reporters standing alongside a road with law enforcement officers keeping them well away from the crime scene, cameras fixed on podiums and microphones outside hospitals and emergency staging sites, onscreen maps attempting to show where the crime took place, telephone calls with people who might or might know what they are talking about.

These are the staples of media coverage of mass shootings, and it is time to rethink them. With all the new technology, is there a better way to do this?

That thought overwhelmed me today. I felt like I had been here so often I was becoming numb to the horrible reality of such violence in American life.

4. Believe nothing on social media anymore — especially Facebook.

Before Sheriff Gahler officially named Moseley, I got her name from sources and searched for her on Facebook. What I found were two pages for her, and one looked totally suspicious.

Facebook is not the Bible. I was reminded again today looking at that dodgy page that it is riddled with dubious information and fake news. Going to Facebook and grabbing an image or some information without verifying it is neither reporting nor research.

5. Local TV stations, which are legacy news operations, are well on the way to co-opting and colonizing digital media to their own corporate ends. I watched more of WBAL and WJZ on Facebook Live today than I did on my TV screen.

Nobody in town does video as well as network-owned and -affiliated stations, and video is the coin of the digital realm.

And outside of The Baltimore Sun — also now a major player in video — who else in the digital realm can match up on reportorial and editing resources with a station like WBAL?

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