“Unreal” Tragedies Becoming a Tired Commonality



Mass shootings are an epidemic in our Nation, and more often than not, the outlier on the chart is when we go a month or two without gun violence. We seem to have become numb to these tragic events. Why is that? It seems likely that it is due to a phenomenon discovered by Keith Tester–aptly called “compassion fatigue.”

Compassion fatigue is defined in the British-American dictionary as “the inability to react sympathetically to a crisis, disaster, etc, because of overexposure to previous crises, disasters, etc.” (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/compassion-fatigue) Keith Tester describes compassion fatigue as anything that leads individual in society to feel “morally exhausted and weary as opposed to morally excited and active.” (Keith Tester Media and Morality outline) After watching the CBS news report above, I have come to the conclusion that this “numbness” in our society to these tragedies is caused by two specific (and easily combatted) factors. The first is the sensational tendencies of our journalists, and the second is balance. 

In these news stories, we see that news reporters and journalists go out of their way to exaggerate or feature extremely dramatic individuals in their reporting of what is happening. The more gruesome details, the more shocking statistics, the more we watch. We can’t stop watching, mostly, it seems, out of pure disbelief. It seems that every time a tragedy happens, news outlets scramble to find the most horrifying, shocking allegations surrounding the incident, and that in turn leads to us accepting that this is “just how things are.” While shootings and mass murders are terrible, terrible events, and ones we need to be informed about, oversharing is indeed possible, and in fact is an issue most news outlets grapple with. When it seems that we can’t do anything to stop the problem, or that all our best efforts are futile, compassion fatigue sets in.

As stated in this video, it seems that we are hearing about these tragic events almost daily, and it’s all we hear about for weeks after the event happens. It’s important for news media to be maintaining a sense of balance in their coverage. Yes, tragic events such as school shootings should be covered, however, news outlets desensitize us to these event by barraging us with photo upon photo, video upon video, in depth analysis of the killers, court hearings, legal battles. While it is important to remain informed, at a certain point, we begin to say things like “it’s unreal” or “I’m shocked,” and the truth of the matter is, we really aren’t. We almost expect these things to happen, and that is perhaps the most concerning aspect of compassion fatigue.

To avoid compassion fatigue, it’s important that the news focus on more than just the negative aspects, and the shocking details of these tragic events. Instead, they need to balance out fatality numbers and injury counts with the stories of the unsung heroes of the day; with positive elements, though they may be difficult to comprehend. Instead of running the same footage over and over, news outlets must attempt to give the story adequate (and objective) coverage, and focus on individuals who are attempting to come up with new and effective ideas to change what happens, not inadvertently glorifying the killer, and bemoaning the fact that nothing ever changes.

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