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When an armed man killed eight people, including six of Asian descent, in the Atlanta area on March 16, Marc Lacey and numerous other journalists across The New York Times went into “mass shooting mode.”
An assistant managing editor, Mr. Lacey oversees live news coverage for The Times. He’s also a former editor of the National desk and has more than a decade of experience directing journalists after events like this.
“It’s really kind of sad that we should have a mass shooting mode,” he said. “But they happen with such regularity that you kind of have to know exactly what you’re going to do.”
After a year without a single large-scale shooting in a public place, the country recorded yet another within six days when a gunman killed 10 people in Boulder, Colo., on Monday. In covering these tragedies, Times reporters and editors weigh extremely delicate issues like what information to publish and when, how to sensitively approach grieving family members and how to put the event in context for a national audience.
As Mr. Lacey’s successor, Jia Lynn Yang, mobilized national correspondents to cover the Boulder shooting this week, Mr. Lacey shared in an edited interview how The Times approaches those issues, and how its coverage of mass shootings has changed in the past 10 years.
How does The Times decide when to identify a suspect in a mass shooting?
We publish the names when they’re confirmed by the authorities. We don’t always publish the photo of the perpetrator or suspect. There’s considerable research that shows that those who commit mass shootings thoroughly research past mass shootings — some people call it the Columbine Effect. These young men become obsessed with looking at all the coverage and images of previous gunmen, and want to seek similar, in their minds, glory, by committing their own heinous acts.
If you do publish a photo of a suspect, what do you consider?
We shy away from publishing images in which the gunman is brandishing weapons, because that sort of imagery is exactly what the suspect wants to get out there — they often leave these images on social media feeds for that very purpose.
When do you publish the names of victims?
The only way we would publish a victim’s name before the authorities is if the family themselves publicized the name and we had confirmed it. The authorities are very careful about notifying next of kin before releasing names, and we certainly don’t want anyone to find out their relative died in a mass shooting by reading The New York Times.
Do you ever quote, paraphrase or link to shooters’ manifestoes?
We want to balance informing readers with not glorifying these awful acts in any way. So you’ll see The Times identifying the suspect, but certainly not publishing the twisted manifestoes in which they denounce the world and give their twisted rationale for carrying out the attack.