What the media should learn from #YesAllWomen

Tragedy transfixes us. That’s the nature of the human experience – wanting to make sense of what we don’t understand. It’s the same reflex that pushes us to explore the outer reaches of space or the inner workings of a particular cell. It’s that deeply rooted need to explain our very existence that gave birth to theology, philosophy, literature and law. When something tragic takes place, we feel as though we must know why it happened, even though we realize that there really is no way to make sense of something senseless. Yet, we try anyway.

As I’m sure you all know by now, a man went on a killing spree in California over the weekend. You also probably know his name, his entire history and where to find his digital footprint. But, I’m not going to lay those out for you, because in doing so I would feel somehow complicit in his crimes. The media is asking why, but they’re not asking the right why.

They want to know why he did this, why he felt so much hatred, why he thought this was the solution to his problems. But, what they should be asking is why did he leave so much footage behind? Why did he plaster his face all over the internet before he carried this out? Why did he leave behind a detailed autobiography? Because he knew that the media would go searching for answers, and he wanted to provide the answers himself. He wanted to be vilified (and even celebrated). He wanted glory, and you gave it to him.

In response to all the broadcasting of his message, something else started to take shape. In order to fight the sensationalism, the web community did its best to flip the message with the hashtag #YesAllWomen. Women and men alike are sharing stories, statistics, observations, and anything else they think is relevant to the conversation we should be having, rather than the conversation the media is continuing to push. It is not without flaws (namely, the aggression that is rampant in any conversation online) but I believe it’s a much more constructive reaction to a senseless tragedy.

When someone runs on the field at a sporting event, they no longer show it on television. The cameras cut away, the announcers barely even register that it happened, because they don’t want to encourage other people to do the same. They want people to know that running onto the field is not going to get you on TV. Why does that policy change when it comes to news coverage? I’m not saying don’t talk about the tragedy, but talk about the truly tragic aspects of it. Talk about the lives of the victims; talk about gun control; talk about what we need to do as a society to foster a real feeling of community.

The world today is so different from what it was twenty years ago, so different even from what it was five years ago, and I feel it’s important to reevaluate what it means to have integrity as a news agent. #YesAllWomen proves that people are ready and willing to talk about real issues. The media just needs to be willing to join that conversation.

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