Earlier this week in my Broadcast News Reporting class we were discussing how to write a hard TV news story about the recent spree of violent crimes known as “The Knock-Out Game.” This sadistic “game” is generally perpetrated by young males in urban settings, sometimes in broad daylight. Generally, one male from among a group (or even walking all alone) will sucker-punch an elderly woman or unsuspecting man, an innocent passer-by, perhaps someone carrying something. In every case, the victim is caught completely unaware and completely defenseless. Coming from the blind side (or even from behind), the assailants hit their targets with a full force fist punch in the head, knocking them unconscious and to the ground with such violent force that some have died from their injuries. All have suffered serious injuries.
Why is this happening?
There is no theft or sexual assault accompanying the attacks. Wallets, purses, and bags are left intact, even beside the victims. There is little apparent motive, other than a few miscreants wanting to amuse themselves. But again…
Solomon (inspired to write Proverbs) tells us that wicked and evil [people] “cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble” (Proverbs 4:14-16, NASB). This very clearly tells us the Who, What, and Why of the story. It’s enough to get a writer going. But in class discussion another culprit became apparent, one that sees the crime but doesn’t help the helpless, one that may be as much to blame as those who strike down the innocent.
The CAMERA is!
Yes, the camera! Several students, as well as I, became increasingly convinced through our discussion that the cameras which captured the crimes for all to see, as well as the Internet and TV networks which repeatedly showed the attacks, were very much accomplices in the crimes. No doubt. First, there are the security cameras in many locations, all too effective in capturing the attacks, but not always clear enough to identify…
Who Done It?
In fact, at least one assault was videoed by the assailants themselves on a cell phone, which later got lots of TV “news” air time, having made it into social media streams faster than the news of the crime itself, far faster than any ambulance could arrive on the scene to help.
In previous blogs I’ve pointed out that research indicates that visual media inspire imitation. Vicarious learning may be a release for some, but for others, a cue to reenact and reinforce what they’ve learned. Pictures and video on social media are no exception to this, and they may, in fact, make the behaviors shared by others seem much more plausible and easy to carry out. Add the illusion of anonymity, and there is very little regard for the consequences of one’s actions.
How do we write about it?
The budding journalists in my class were clearly struggling with how to begin telling a serious news story for their audience. The challenge of crafting that LEAD SENTENCE can be daunting for anyone, especially when a story evokes a range of strong emotions, not only for the victims, but for the journalists themselves. Our discussions about WHO did WHAT to WHOM, WHERE and WHY became very spirited. But when I try to get students to nail down one strong, concise phrase that grabs our attention, sets the tone of the story, and compels us to want to hear more, many are stymied.
As I typically find in class discussions about issues that are highly evocative, there are several stumbling blocks that must be overcome.
- Victim blaming (lack of empathy)–likely an attempt to gain distance from the uncomfortable topic
- Joking–making light of the injuries and seriousness of the crime
- Prioritizing–inability to distinguish the most important facts from lesser important facts
- Newsworthy elements–inability to choose which angle to take on the story, such as impact, magnitude, proximity, oddity, etc. (There are 8.)
Darrell Roe (Ph.D., UGA, 1998) is an Assoc. Prof. of Mass Communication at ETBU. His specialty is analyzing the content of visual media and its effects on audiences.