Better coverage of school violence

Media have a responsibility to show more wisdom and sensitivity in their coverage.

Recently, I have been very critical of the media for failing to provide a public service. Instead of focusing attention on the dichotomy of life and the right to die, the media played out the Terri Schiavo case.  Fox News Channel announced the death of Pope John Paul II a full day before his death.  Now, my trouble with the media hits closer to home with the continuing coverage of “school threats.”

Having graduated from Coon Rapids High School in Coon Rapids, Minn., last June, I still have many connections with the school of approximately 2,800 students. I was shocked to hear that a 16-year-old student was arrested for allegedly making threats. But I trust principal Charles Achter, his staff, the Anoka-Hennepin Independent School District 11 and the Coon Rapids Police Department to do their jobs in preventing violence at the school; now the media must do their job.

In the Star Tribune’s “Second metro student arrested after making threats,” posted online Thursday, the article leaves readers to assume that the threat of violence came during the school day, which a school district press release flatly denies: “The threat was not made at the school. It was reported to police at approximately 9:30 p.m.”

Apparently, the media were waiting for something to happen at my alma mater all day Thursday. Instead of being on stakeout duty in lovely Coon Rapids, the Twin Cities media should have read author Lionel Shriver’s Op-Ed piece in The New York Times on March 27. 

In the article, titled “Dying to Be Famous,” Shriver leads with this scary lead: “Adolescents don’t conceive the notion of strafing their classmates in a vacuum; they get the idea from cable TV.” Later, Shriver goes on to write: “The genre is now sufficiently entrenched that any adolescent who guns down his classmates aims to join a specific elect.”

Here lies the problem: We are living in an age in which it is not safe to go anywhere; our planes could be used as weapons, our cars could get in accidents and our courts and schools can fall victim to violence. In the age of rapid communication, 24-hour cable news and newspapers that can post stories online before they even start the printers, we are living in constant fear and the media do nothing but perpetuate reason for us to fear anything and everything.

It is important that Coon Rapids’ parents and students know that a student was arrested, but why not mention that the arrest and threat came outside of school in the lead or the top of the newscast? Why not mention that Coon Rapids High School, via the school district, has lead an aggressive campaign against bullying? Why cause fear for students and parents across the metro when the situation had been, and was, dealt with?

It all goes back to the Shriver article that states these students can join “a specific elect” because the media glorify a trivial story and fail to see the larger context of the situation.

I had a history class last semester and received a C on a well-written paper. I asked my teaching assistant why I received such a low grade and she told me it was because I had failed to address the big picture.

To the media: Instead of having the focal point of a story be about a meager fact, link it back to what really matters. Why is a teenager being arrested a big story when it really is not? The media outlets tried to link back the Coon Rapids story with the Red Lake, Minn., story but failed. They tried to link the Schiavo case to the right to die yet failed again. They did succeed in covering the pope’s death and linking that to the larger picture.

That is two out of three, or 66 percent.  Based on most grading paradigms, 66 percent is a D. The media is almost failing in being a public service for what really matters and that is adding to my constant fear.

Dan Bordwell is a University research assistant. Please send comments to [email protected].