What role does media coverage play in tragedies? - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

What role does media coverage play in how the public reacts to tragedy?

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - Random acts of violence make our world uncomfortable and unpredictable.  They also make decisions about coverage, like the Boston Marathon Bombing, difficult.  Just how much media coverage is too much?  Ask five people and you might get five different opinions.

Tuesday, WQOW News 18 spoke with a local psychologist about the impact the media's coverage can have and there's no easy answer.

There have always been concerns about copycats.  Someone who wants attention may be emboldened by the level of coverage given to this tragedy.  However, many people want to be informed.  Information may put their mind at ease.  What's clear is this, there is no easy answer.

"We have this underlying fear because it's a random act. When you have a random act, it could happen to anybody, at any place, and at any time," says Eau Claire Psychologist, Dr. Harlan Heinz.

An unpredictable attack like the Boston Marathon Bombing can create a sense of unease for the watching world. "It's a loss to people. We feel that loss for other people, we feel it as though it could be our loss, says Dr. Heinz.

He says the heavy media coverage on a tragedy like this can be productive, because viewers remain informed and vigilant, but it also has its downside.  He's concerned people become numb.

"I think it happens to some degree, people hear these events on and on and so I think we do say, well, there's another one and go on about our life. I would hope that we would react with fear, with concern, with thinking about what we can do to help change our world in a way that is going to make it more safe," says Heinz.  

Dr. Heinz says therapy plays a key role in that safety, Talking about it in individual therapeutic situations, or group situations, where there can be an opportunity to process this,  to think about it to work through it, to help resolve it over time. Time is a big factor."

Comprehensive coverage of a tragedy can also spark a national conversation. After Sandy Hook happened, we've been hearing a lot about the need for more mental health services in our country, which is something Dr. Heinz talked about.  He believes beefing up mental health care could help prevent more tragedies.

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