Church Shootings Show Method in Media Madness

Sunday’s church killings offer more sad proof that local news is a well-oiled machine during times of crisis.Denver awoke Sunday to snow and murder. Overnight Matthew Murray had shot and killed two and wounded two others at a missionary outreach center in Arvada. Hours later, the 24-year-old struck again, killing two teenage sisters and wounding their father and two others before a volunteer security guard at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs “took him down.”

Not so many years ago, such news accounts would have been filled with genuine shock. But after JonBenet and Columbine – to name only those events that hit closest to home – Denver locals, media included, are dismayed but no longer completely surprised by “tragedies” happening here. We have come to expect the worst of mankind – and the best of our media.

When “shocking” events occur, we demand to know every grisly detail. Now. And the local media, ever better technologically equipped and at this point with ever more experienced personnel, are there to provide.

Like a well-oiled machine, news crews were expedited and began feeding us the dirt in real-time online and during commercial breaks on TV. KCNC, Channel 4, kept Broncos fans informed during time-outs and half-time.

There was so much information disseminated within hours of the shootings that by the time the evening news came on, there really wasn’t much new to report, but since it was otherwise a relatively slow news day, report it they did. Again and again.

One would think that would leave little for the daily papers to print the next morning, but one would be mistaken. Both the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post offered readers multi-page coverage of the church shootings, as did the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Among the most striking photos in any of the dailies, which was unavailable on the News’ website, was a handout that ran in the Rocky. Although no technical masterpiece, the close-up shows Tiffany Johnson, the hospitality director who apparently lost her life for refusing lodging at Youth With a Mission to a killer with a grudge, and Dan Griebenow, an evangelical missionary who was also shot, together and smiling broadly at a holiday masquerade party at YWAM Saturday night. To think that young woman with silly make-up and a mask on her forehead died within hours of that picture being taken brings home the reality. How could one not feel the sadness and the loss knowing she won’t smile again?

Of course the news frenzy did not stop there. News sites updated all day Monday as the shooter’s identity was revealed, as the link between the attacks was confirmed, as Murray’s connections to YWAM were revealed, and as Jeanne Assam, the guard who stopped Murray, stepped before the press to thank God for keeping her hand steady.

The headlines will pour in for the next few days. Teams of local journalists will turn over every rock and then drift back to their beats as we become sated.

But there is only so much bad news we can take at a stretch.  Check out this story from the Lincoln Journal Star in Nebraska. It reads as if the only reason they ran a story about the Colorado church killings was because a Lincoln relative of the Springs victims called them up and asked them to.

As Nebraskans attend funerals for Omaha mall shooting victims from last week, they wrap up a huge bad news cycle.  With so much of their own local bad news apparently they don’t have ears or eyes left for ours.

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Rowena Alegria

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