Families of Mass Shooting Victims Ask Media to Limit Use of Killers' Names

Family members of those killed in some of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history have issued a challenge to 150 media executives nationwide, urging them to change the way they report on perpetrators.

Seventy people who lost family members in the shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek Sikh Temple, Alturas, Isla Vista and Newtown, have signed onto a campaign called “No Notoriety,” which asks the media to:

  • Limit the name and likeness of the individual from reporting after initial identification, except when the alleged assailant is still at large and in doing so would aid in the assailant’s capture.
  • Refuse to broadcast/publish photos and/or self-serving statements made by the individual. Elevate the names and likenesses of all victims killed to send the message that their lives are more important than the killer.
  • Recognize that the prospect of infamy could serve as a motivating factor for other individuals to kill and could inspire copycat crimes.  Keep this responsibility in mind when reporting.
  • Agree to promote data and analysis from experts in mental health, public safety, and other relevant professions to support further steps to help eliminate the motivation behind mass murder. Recognize that the individual’s name and likeness is irrelevant to media coverage of such acts unless the alleged assailant is at large.

Caren Teves, whose son Alex was killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, founded the campaign with her husband, Tom. “The media has a tremendous responsibility because they have the unique power to initiate change by valuing and elevating the victims, while at the same time taking away a known motivating factor of notoriety these killers crave,” she said.

Dave Cullen, a Dart Center Ochberg Fellow, wrote an article in 2013 urging news organizations to use the name of the suspect sparingly in the first 48 hours, and after that, to label the suspect as “the gunman,” “the killer,” or “the perpetrator.”

“Some have called for us to stop covering these mass shootings. That’s unrealistic, and no way to run a democracy. But what we can do, and remarkably easily, is withhold the spotlight,” wrote Cullen. “The killing will get covered, but we can and should deprive the shooter of name recognition.” 

Cullen spent a decade researching and writing Columbine, his best-selling account of the 1999 Colorado school shooting, and shared what he has learned about covering high-profile mass shootings with the Dart Center.

Click here for a compilation of advice from Cullen for journalists on interviewing victims and their families, and here for a free online Instructor Guide for Columbine. And click here to learn more about the No Notoriety Campaign.