Yesterday, two journalists were shot dead in cold blood, live on American television. Later, the gunman posted a point-of-view video of the shooting, in which the gun can be seen in his hand as he kills Alison Parker and Adam Ward, both Virginia journalists in their twenties.
This, just the latest in a somehow bottomless pit of horrific, tragic shootings in the United States, had an added abhorrence. News outlets have repeatedly thrust such stories in our faces; from unarmed black men shot in the street by police officers, to classrooms full of infant-school children and church-fuls of people shot mercilessly by roving gunmen.
But something about this is different.
This tragedy seems almost perfectly calibrated to appeal to all the worst instincts of the 21st-century mainstream media.
And they fell for it.
Tabloids tripped over their own feet rushing to print stills from the gunman’s footage on their front pages. Newspapers that counted themselves as a little more respectable still fell foul, printing perverse shots of Alison Parker’s petrified look of terror, the last seconds of her life crudely slapped on the front pages for the millions-strong readership by sales-hungry editors.
In some ways, this was to be expected of the ‘old guard’ of our media. What was perhaps not to be expected is the lack of moral and emotional insight across the board. Only the Guardian, the i, and the Daily Express have run front pages that are in any way laudable. There are further little gems, showing us the new depths editors will mine for that ‘commercial edge’: The Sun decided that the tasteful thing to do would be a ‘cheeky plug’ – a call to ‘Watch the chilling video at thesun.co.uk’.
Appalling, but not exactly surprising.
Most surprising were the terrible decisions made by the editors of this publication, The Huffington Post. For those who thought ‘new media’ might be exempt from such moral blindness came a rude awakening.
Not long after the release of the gunman’s video, @HuffPostUK tweeted: “BREAKING: Virginia shooter tweets video of shooting”, with a still from the video below, the gun visible in focus in the foreground, with the blurred figure of Alison Parker, as of yet unaware, in the background.
Then came the ‘splash’, as HuffPo journalists delight in calling it. “Why did I do it?
The Church Shooting in Charleston’.
No doubt everyone in the newsroom thought this was an ‘edgy’ and ‘alternative’ ‘angle’. A ‘take’ on the story that no other outlet had led with.
For everyone else, the truth was much more obvious. The Huffington Post has published the insane propaganda of a serial killer on its front page, the conceptual equivalent of publishing ‘Why did I do it? The Treaty of Versailles’ in 1945, as Hitler lay dead on the bunker floor. The Huffington Post seems to have forgotten that there’s no ‘take’ on murder; no ‘angle’ on the taking of innocent human life, only the horrible crime of the person responsible and the unimaginable grief of the family and friends of those lost.
For some reason, many of us made the mistake of thinking better of ‘new media’.
We were naïve enough to believe that the social media age would mean the democratisation of information and content, leading to a great proliferation of nice editorial decisions and a lot of articles with cats in them.
In this instance, we seem to have been rewarded with the same terrible and pitiful garbage that the ‘old media’ has long spoiled us with, topped off with a few extra sprinkles that even they would not have dared to add. The callously sarcastic tone of ‘World Politely Asks Americans to ‘Please Stop Shooting Each Other’, one of the subheadings on that ‘splash’, comes to mind.
The Huffington Post seems to have taken it upon itself to slot the latest barbaric act of a sick, media-fed, gun-fuelled culture of fame and violence nicely into its half-baked plans for ever-growing hits, revenue and market share.
We have sunk to a new low. The murder of innocent journalists is being used by other journalists and editors for sales and website clicks.
Welcome to 2015.
What fresh hell of unspeakable human barbarism shall we plunder next?