These Philadelphia Researchers Want Journalists to Tell Better Stories About Gun Violence

By Afea Tucker, The Trace | February 23, 2023

Stoneleigh Fellow Jessica Beard was featured by The Trace for her recently published research interviewing shooting victims to capture their perspectives on news coverage of gun violence.

A few decades ago, a group of researchers set out to determine whether news reporting on suicide was causing harm. What they learned: Certain types of coverage led more people to end their lives. The findings were so conclusive that they eventually persuaded many journalists to be more careful when interviewing bereaved family or friends, and to refrain from explicitly describing the way their subjects ended their lives, in order to reduce the risk of a copycat effect. In other words, the research caused long-lasting change. Parallel research into the effects of reporting on mass shootings has had a similar outcome in the last decade.

Now, researchers in Philadelphia are trying to do the same for reporting on gun violence. They want it to become more sensitive to the needs of its subjects, less likely to cause further damage. But to do that, they’ll need to prove that the way journalists cover everyday gun violence is causing significant harm.

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