Media Argues Over Sharing the Oregon Shooter’s Name

To name or not to name? That has been the question.

Last week, the nation was shocked to see the breaking news of yet another school shooting. This time, nine people were injured and another nine people were killed on the campus of Oregon’s Umpqua Community College.

As thousands grieved and the president petitioned us all to put action behind our prayers (and rightfully so), a note from Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin has the media choosing sides —is it the responsibility of the media to mention the shooter’s name? 

“I will not name the shooter. I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act. … We would encourage media and the community to avoid using [the name]. We encourage you to not repeat it. We encourage you not to glorify and create sensationalism for him.”

While no one can fault the sheriff for his sentiment or his resolve, the media was caught wondering if maybe he had a point. Journalism is (supposed to be) about sharing a story and providing the facts. Regardless of how we feel about a story, or the people within it, names are facts.

However, it could be argued that most serial killers and mass shooters are after two things—making a statement and a little bit of infamy. The coward’s statement was “I hate Christianity,” as he asked people to stand up and name their faith before ending their lives if the answer was “Christian.”

His infamy has people clamoring about ethics in journalism versus those in life. As an example, see this exchange:

Much like Congress, newsrooms are divided down the middle on this one.

Newscasts have reported this story differently. Anchors are left to decide what the most important information is. What would you do? Would you stand with the sheriff or would you consult those notes you took in your ‘Journalism 101’ class?

Names are news but the media has been known to take a stand every once in a while, so there’s that. Just ask the NFL team in Washington about that one.