Restraint needed in media coverage

Last Wednesday’s shooting at Parliament Hill demonstrated the importance of exercising restraint in media coverage during uncertain situations.

While certain news outlets failed to demonstrate restraint from sensationalizing the day’s events — including CityNews Toronto, which promoted its coverage of the shooting online with the headline “Terror in Canada” — many Canadian sources were thorough and responsible in their coverage.

CBC exemplified this restraint, as they waited for the verification of details throughout their live telecast of the shooting’s aftermath. The print coverage by the Globe and the Ottawa Citizen throughout the end of last week was exemplary, as they respectfully covered all facets of the situation.

The Citizen in particular made good use of the print medium following the events. They created a helpful breakdown of what information was known in the days after the shooting, and what questions had yet to be answered.

Particularly commendable was the retroactive focus of many news sources on the life of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, rather than his killer.

Several comparisons were drawn between American and Canadian news coverage in terms of how the latter reacted to the Ottawa shooting. Some sources, including Mother Jones and Globe and Mail columnist John Doyle, remarked that Canadian coverage was much less reactive and frenzied than American coverage of other tragedies.

While the comparison is understandable, American and Canadian coverage function within different contexts. The events at Parliament Hill weren’t a regular occurrence for Canada, while the U.S. faces a systemic issue of gun control. For this reason, comparison between the two should be minimal in such instances.

Social media’s role in disseminating information throughout this type of event can’t be discounted. While Twitter is helpful in providing constant updates, it can pose a greater threat to accuracy.

During events like the shooting in Ottawa, misinformation via Twitter can prove dangerous. In the hours following the shooting at the National War Memorial, reports circulated online of another shooting at the nearby Rideau Centre mall, which turned out to be false.

With a 140-character restriction, Twitter doesn’t lend itself well to big picture or in-depth coverage, which often leads to the rapid spread of speculation.

As mediums like Twitter continue to emerge, news sources need to set boundaries and standards for their use, to ensure that standards of accuracy aren’t compromised.

Journal Editorial Board

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