If the loss of one life is a tragedy, then what are we to make of the deaths of thirty-three people, all in the prime of their lives or at the top of their fields? Lost is the wisdom of a Holocaust survivor, the potentially life changing breakthroughs of biomechanical researcher, and the thousands of accomplishments that would have had a far reaching impact, if only a couple of dozen college students were not at the wrong place at the wrong time.
In an era of 24 hour news channels, the media has a lot of time they need to fill. If they can find a way to say “Nappy headed hos” every ten minutes for a week, then they will inevitably find a way to discuss the shootings at Virginia Tech for much longer, and they should. The media has an obligation to inform the rest of us what is going on in the world. Like a good story teller, they should do this in an engaging way that provides us with the information we need to know what happened, or at the very least, enough pieces of information to explain what happened to ourselves.
The media also has an obligation to not be the story and instead to be a vehicle through which the story can be told. However, once Oprah arrives, this can no longer be the case. By now every television station in the country has arrived on the Virginia Tech campus, including stations that have difficulty covering local news in a respectable manner. Talking heads have taken it upon themselves to prove that hind sight is 20/20, while pseudo-anchors have taken it upon themselves to put words into the mouths of young people still trying to comprehend what will hopefully be the worst thing they every experience. Meanwhile Meredith Viara is doing all she can to turn herself into a victim, letting the world know just how difficult it is to be a journalist on the scene of a tragedy. While it may be difficult, it is certainly no more difficult than losing a friend or family member, your sense of well being, or what innocence you may have had left.
This is media frenzy is nothing new, and unfortunately is not going anywhere. The predictable patter of covering the story, trying to create more stories, and covering the media will play out again and again until something changes. As I said earlier, I have no problem with the media covering this story, but I do wonder where this media frenzy has been when it could have made a difference. The events at Virginia Tech are horrible, but they are over. Across the world thousands of people die every day of preventable diseases, a genocide rages half a world away, and in our own back yard people sleep under bridges because they have no where to go. Millions died in The Congo, and the media didn’t notice. Thousands are dieing in Darfur, but where are the reporters on the ground? Over 8,000 people died each day during the Rwandan genocide. Eight thousand people each day for more than three months. Where were the talking heads and Oprah and pseudoanchors then? Where are they now? The problem may not be the 24 hour new cycle; it may be what we consider news.