That consistency is a reflection of a dense news environment, with more major stories nearly every day than can possibly fit on a front page. The extent of coverage is not solely determined by the number of fatalities. The Thousand Oaks shooting, for example, was only on the front page of the Times for one day, as it was pushed off by the deadliest fires in California history, some of which, it so happened, were also in Thousand Oaks.
And there are outliers at the other end of the spectrum, as well. After a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, stories about the shooting were on the front page of the Times for 16 consecutive days. That is in large part due to the student-led activism that emerged in the wake of the shooting, calling for stronger gun-control laws. As Michelle Cottle put it, “Possessed of that blend of innocence and savvy peculiar to teenagers, the Stoneman Douglas survivors indeed have emerged as a rare, perhaps even unique, voice in the gun debate. They are old enough to advocate for themselves, yet young enough to still embody a certain innocence, to retain a certain idealism about how the world should be.”
Goode, too, noted the difference in Parkland—but she also noticed something else: The media had, by and large, started to change how it covered the shootings. Goode worked as a reporter and editor at the Times for 18 years, and covered several mass shootings herself. After Parkland, she observed that one of the regular story genres—the shooter profile—had gotten shorter, and in some outlets, it wasn’t there at all. “What we told people,” Goode says of reporters covering mass shootings, “was that [shooter profiles] would help people understand what causes this, and who these people are.” However, she said she later decided “that’s bullshit.” Far from introducing anything particularly revelatory about the shooters, these stories brand the perpetrators as mysterious lone wolves, something that carries a whiff of coolness or allure. “A profile of the shooter is not going to help anybody understand who these people are,” she says. Instead, it’s going to draw attention to shooters from people who are fascinated by reading about them—“It’s going to make them famous, basically.”
Those stories have been replaced, at least in print, by stories—both local and national—on gun-law reforms and more stories about the victims. Of course, Goode says, it is news organizations’ duty, by definition, to cover the news—and the identity of the shooter is news. But, she said, it is also imperative to cover the news responsibly. By giving less of a platform to shooters, and focusing more on the victims of the shooting and on solutions to potentially preventing the next one from happening, media organizations might beat back some of the likelihood of another shooting, she believes.