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Pulse Shooting and PTSD

by on October 6, 2016

When I watched the coverage of Pulse I had never been more angry at journalism than I had been before.

There were two main issues I had with it’s coverage.

My first issue was that the loss of LGBT+ lives were used for political leverage, I understand that the media needed to cover the statements made by both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but for many newscasts it felt like it had quickly become a political piece and the lives lost were disregarded.

The story had become an argument over gun control, over terrorism, over police and less about the victims. Again while these were important topics to be discussed I still felt as those the victims lives were being used. In every news cast I had read it was never labeled as a hate crime and always labeled as a terrorist attack. It was less about homophobia and racism against the people and more about what the presidential candidates and other political leaders were making the shooting about.

Do you think Pulse was handled well from a journalistic perspective? Would you have touched on what the presidential candidates? Would you have spent more time focusing on the victims? How long would you continue to report on the shooting for? Is it ethical for journalists to use the loss of lives to generate content?

The second issue I had was how journalists treat people with PTSD. One of my acquaintances was working at the club the night of the shooting. She was unable to return home until a few days after the event, but when she had, the Huffington Post and Daily Mail had already tried to contact her to tell the story, by sending her an email and leaving a card on her door.

In another case a reporter sent her a message trying to get the story except in this case the reporter did not change the message and still addressed her as “Kenya Michaels” who was a drag queen working the club that night.

She decided to say no and have a choice, where as many witnesses spoke out about their experiences. As journalists it is our job to get the story, but what lengths should we go to get it. Obviously the second reporter did not handle the situation well, but when should we start asking victims of tragedies their experiences? Should we wait for them to tell us when they’re ready or should we go looking for them? Is it ethical to ask someone to re-live and tell a traumatizing story so you can get a story? Say there was only one person who knew the story and re telling the story would be extremely damaging to their psyche and well being, how would you have approached the situation?

I ask these questions because I just want to see what everyone’s opinions are and if they ever think about how asking someone to retell a story could have a negative effect. It is our jobs as journalists to find information. We are to give a voice to the voiceless, but if we are damaging the voiceless are we doing our job? Our goal is to minimize harm but it is also to seek truth and report it as fully as possible. Where do you draw the line?

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2 Comments
  1. Lucy permalink

    I was interning at a news room when Pulse happened over the summer. It was our morning meeting and we had to devise a way to tell this story with an international angle (that’s what PRI’s The World looks for in every radio interview it broadcasts.)

    A producer brought up mental health. I remember nodding my head in agreement — yeah, mental health! Let’s talk about the trauma that queer, especially queer Latinx, must be experiencing right now.

    But instead, the producer wanted to talk about the mental health of the shooter. My stomach dropped a little bit. The conversation then led to questioning whether or not the shooter was related to the Islamic State. Was it terrorism?

    I looked at a fellow intern and we both had the same expression. I shot my hand up and suggested that we should focus on the queer Latinx community. (A fellow intern and I then proceeded to define Latinx to our producers and editors as a more gender-inclusive term for Latino/Latina.) My same friend and fellow intern then suggested that we think about the trans performers who were affected that night at Pulse as well.

    I realized that if we hadn’t said anything, the story very well may have been what every other news outlet was talking about — was Omar Mateen a terrorist? Did he pledge his allegiance to the Islamic State?

    I think maybe politicians used these slain queer lives for political leverage in some sense, but I more strongly felt that the media ignored the fact that it was a *gay* nightclub.

    Once I was co-assigned an angle to write — which was a remembrance piece, I had to search up people from Orlando, Florida on Facebook who may have known one of the 49 victims. It felt eerie. In a way, I did feel like I was invading somebody’s space. I called one person up who sounded exhausted. I could hear the sadness in his voice. He knew one of the people who died at Pulse. He already had another interview set with Univision. Even though he said he would do an interview with us, he never called back. I didn’t blame him.

    A colleague and I ended up finding someone to interview who knew a few people who had attended Latin Night at Pulse. My colleague took charge and asked the questions over the phone. She was quick and concise with her questions — as if she were ripping off a bandaid. My feelings of discomfort subsided watching her interview this traumatized friend over the phone. This is the kind of story I wanted to be told over the shooter in the first place. (This is the piece if you’re curious http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-06-14/remembering-friends-lost-orlando-shooting)

  2. The Pulse shooting was a horrific incident and many news organizations didn’t handle it well.

    When I was updated on the news, I didn’t know it was a gay nightclub at all. I felt like that may have been an important note to say because it may have influenced the shooter’s motive. Moving on from there, the news focused mainly on the shooter. I was worried about the victims, their friends and family. Of course I’m worried about a mass shooter and what caused him to act out, but I think more focus on the victims and grieving should have been there.

    As for collecting news, it must be difficult for a journalist to call and ask for what happened from a survivor or even a friend of a victim. Once when I was touring a news station with a class back at my old school, one of the journalists there told us that you will start out writing obituaries and call the people every 30 minutes asking them about their lost loved one. That seemed really rough to me. I understand that as a journalist in a competitive business, sending out news first and factual is usually most important. Journalists have a reputation to be unsympathetic and nosy, but we don’t have to be. If I were in the situation, I would probably send an email to your friend saying something along the lines of “I’m glad you are okay and I’m sorry for the traumatic experience you have gone through. If you would like to share any of the story with me, feel free to give me a call.” I would try to make it personal and human. I believe this attempt would minimize harm as much as possible with still trying to receive information. If she still chose not to share, I’m sure there are still many people who would be willing, or give the option for her to wait a bit and write a feature story later on.

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