On October 1, 2015, nine people were shot and killed by a lone gunman in an English classroom at Umpqua Community College: Lucero Alcaraz, Treven Taylor Anspach, Rebecka Ann Carnes, Quinn Cooper, Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, Jason Johnson, Lucas Eibel, Lawrence Levine and Sarena Dawn Moore. Nine more people were shot and injured.
According to some statistics, it was the 45th school shooting in the United States in the year 2015 alone. When President Obama spoke to the nation that day, he said with frustration, “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine.”
We watched his speech. We lamented the need for a routine.
Roseburg is just an hour south of our main University of Oregon campus in Eugene. We have students from Roseburg and alums working in Roseburg. We felt a special responsibility to examine the reporting of gun violence, as journalism educators and media scholars, posing the broad question, “What is the responsibility of journalism to victims, to their families and to our communities and to our citizens in reporting gun violence and mass shootings?”
Reporting Roseburg contributes to the national conversation about mass shootings through examining a vital aspect that has been largely missing: the experiences of the journalists who cover the story, both the breaking news and the long-term response.
We wanted to know what the experience was like for individual journalists on the scene of such tragedy—and what journalists, educators and researchers can learn from their stories. We want to know how journalism can responsibly cover gun violence and mass shootings, balancing the moral imperatives of seeking truth and minimizing harm.
This project captures the stories of 19 of the Oregon-area journalists who covered the UCC shooting: everyone from student freelancers on the scene of a mass tragedy for the first time to Eli Saslow of The Washington Post, who has covered four mass shootings, and Chris Pietsch of The (Eugene) Register-Guard, who covered the mass shooting at Thurston High School in Springfield in 1998. While we sought to interview diverse sources, both in terms of demographics and journalistic perspective, we acknowledge that this is by no means a comprehensive account of all Oregon-area journalists who covered UCC.
We present their stories as a part of a conversation that School of Journalism and Communication faculty members are having about how to cover complex issues. The intent is to learn what it is like to be thrust from a normal day on the job into a horrific breaking news event that dominates the national news cycle and upends the communities where the tragedy happened. Journalists reflect on their experiences, and, by doing so, provide an educational resource for educators, both in j-schools and in newsrooms.
In these interviews, you will hear diverse approaches to the coverage of mass shootings. This project doesn’t advocate for any particular viewpoint. The journalists speak for themselves in their own voices, relaying their emotions and experiences from a personal perspective.
Our on-camera interviews ranged from 45 minutes to more than two hours. We asked a standard set of questions for consistency, but we also allowed the interviews to follow their own course, adding additional questions when the discussion called for it. We captured about 30 hours of footage. In an effort to create a useable resource, the interviews were edited solely for length and grouped into related segments.
A technical note: for the convenience of the journalists and for scheduling purposes, these interviews were recorded in different locations and with slightly different equipment set-ups. You will notice aesthetic differences in lighting, depth of field, etc. While production quality matters, we were willing to make small production compromises in favor of securing the interview. Our project emphasis is the content.
Many of the journalists we interviewed commented that they hadn’t previously talked in-depth about their experiences; all thanked us for asking and listening. And we thank them for their insight and dedication.
Nicole Dahmen and Lori Shontz, producers