Following up: Gun violence coverage references from ONA18

Lori Shontz
3 min readSep 13, 2018

The more deeply I’ve delved into the way the news media cover gun violence, the more I’ve realized what I didn’t know. There’s a disconnect between what researchers know about media coverage of mass shootings, in particular, and what journalists know or assume.

We need to correct that disconnect, which is, I hope, one of the takeaways from our session at the Online News Association’s 2018 national convention: Strategies for dealing with an incoherent national gun conversation. (You can watch the panel, with Versha Sharma of NowThis, Akoto Offori-Atta of The Trace and Delaney Tarr, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduate who is part of March for Our Lives, at this link.)

Here are the resources I referenced during the panel:

On the academic research:

There is no dispute about this: news media coverage is part of what motivates some mass shooters — including, according to criminologist Adam Lankford, the perpetrators of 11 of the country’s 20 deadliest mass shootings since 1998. Here’s where you can learn more:

  • Journalist’s Resource has been at the forefront in highlighting the growing body of research into coverage of gun violence, particularly mass shootings. The website conducted an interview with Lankford, and this link includes a bibliography of peer-reviewed academic research compiled by my colleague Nicole Dahmen. It also detailed Dahmen’s research, which indicates that photos of the perpetrator vastly outnumber photos of victims — by a ratio of 16 to 1.
  • Lankford published this tipsheet for the 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors conference. It summarizes his research and provides suggestions for journalists.
  • And what do journalists think? Dahmen, Jesse Abendour, Karen McIntyre and Krystal Noga-Styron examine journalists’ perceptions and opinions in this piece in the journal Journalism Practice.

On the journalistic routine:

Reporting Roseburg, a project I built with my University of Oregon colleague Nicole Dahmen, features interviews with 19 Oregon-area journalists who covered the 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. It’s organized by topic — approaching sources, naming the shooter, social media, etc. — and intended to be useful for classroom lessons or newsroom training.

Key takeaways:

  • Journalists don’t receive enough training in coverage of mass tragedies or trauma in general.
  • Many journalists are uncomfortable with the traditional news-gathering process, but don’t see any way out of it.
  • Journalists need to be debriefed — and not just to improve their performance. For their mental health.

Other links:

And a final recommendation …

Dave Cullen’s book Columbine and Jill Leovy’s book Ghettoside should be required reading for all journalists.



Lori Shontz

Journalism instructor, @UOsojc. Co-director, @sojcwriter. Bureau chief, @SOJCtrack. Adviser, @UO_SPJ. Godmother, @AWSM_PennState @AWSM_UO. Swimmer, hiker, yogi.