By Riley Holcraft, Staff Writer–
Dr. Michael McCluskey is an Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He teaches Communications courses at the University, but he is also known for his extensive research on the media’s impact on school shootings.
News Framing of School Shootings: Journalism and American Social Problems is McCluskey’s novel released in 2017, crafted with assistance from two undergraduate students from Ohio State and UTC. He researched the topic for his Masters thesis, but he revisited the research after the devastation that came from Sandy Hooks school shooting in 2012.
In his book, McCluskey reviews school shootings between 1996 and 2012 and the media’s involvement with different cases. “As the years passed, unfortunately, these shootings have become a more routine occurrence,” he notes.
As school shootings have become more commonplace, the procedures regarding prevention and response have evolved tremendously through the years. Safety standards have changed as well to include more confrontational approaches both in regards to information disbursement and emergency response.
Discussions about solutions to the school shooting epidemic are prevalent in this day and age. McCluskey adds the following to the conversation: “The biggest failing we have had as a society is trying to come up with one dimensional approaches. I don’t believe much positive progress will be made until people come to the realization that we must approach this from all different directions, and one approach will not be sufficient.”
McCluskey emphasizes the importance of recognizing that this is a simple problem that isn’t fixable with one answer. It’s not just guns, mental health, or safety precautions that contribute to this epidemic. Contributing factors include all those mentioned above, as well as others.
Although there is no easy fix, the media has taken steps to try and not give the perpetrators of these mass murders the attention they likely seek.
“There is a lot of concern within media industries that we might be glorifying the perpetrators,” McCluskey suggests, “and how we cover a story like that and give the public the information they need to know without giving the school shooters an elevated status.”
The media also plays a role in providing immediate information to help those involved in school shootings make informed decisions as quickly as possible.
Overall, though, McCluskey notes that “The media is still trying to figure out the best way to help the public amidst school shootings.”
On Wednesday, August 26, UTC encountered the threat of a shooter on campus. The false alarm came about as a result of a student spotting of an off-duty police officer carrying his gear. However, the poor communication ignited confusion and anxiety among the UTC community. Most minds immediately go to tragedy when faced with these types of situations.
“[The issue of school shootings] is top of mind for students here, especially after the recent incident,” McCluskey explained. “We discussed the event in class afterwards, and there was anxiety present among the students and faculty members. There were even some faculty members unable to function properly due to the anxiety it brought. I think it would be helpful for faculty to undergo some form of training or guidance for an active shooter situation.”
The administration has acknowledged that the response to the scare was poor and inadequate. Teachers received dozens of messages with students asking what to do since there was no clear direction on what steps should be taken for safety. Hopefully, no more scares will happen in the future at UTC, but this experience educated the University on how to better handle these threats.
Even though no one was harmed, UTC students can still relate to the fear that these shootings instills in our youth, educators, and anyone on a school campus. The counseling center is always open for students who may face these fears or triggers; appointments can be made at 423-425-4438.