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How can community radio stations address such tragedy amid mystery?

On Sunday night, a mass shooting in Las Vegas left over 50 dead and hundreds wounded. It is the latest in a number of mass murders in the United States.

At this point, little is known about the shooter, 64-year-old accountant Stephen Paddock, who reportedly killed himself before police entered his hotel suite at the Mandalay Bay Casino. The details being revealed – a cache of firearms, the victims and the scene – are harrowing. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility, and the incident has already prompted debates about firearms, mental health and more.

How does your community radio station respond, given the lack of known motive?

Many syndicated programs your station broadcasts may already be tackling this news story. As stations formulate local coverage, how you present the story with sensitivity, balance and compassion is key to successfully engaging your community.

Your station may already be covering what happened in Las Vegas. As the story unfolds, here are a few departures. Adding local voices to these topics may help you increase listener awareness of your station and your mission.

  • Mourning. As national conversations shift to a variety of issues, your station may be able to wade in on where people agree. It is evident the Las Vegas tragedy was premeditated and has unfathomable implications. How can your local listeners contribute to support the families of those killed or wounded in Las Vegas? Are local blood banks helping out? What are your local faith and civic leaders doing to unite your city? Also, as you give out information, it is important to vet local fundraising initiatives through nonprofit watchdogs like GiveWell.
  • Domestic terrorism laws. What happened in Las Vegas is sparking debating about definitions of terrorism. The USA PATRIOT Act, notes the American Civil Liberties Union, has broad categorizations of domestic terrorism. NPR has a summation of the laws as well as some of the discussions about what domestic terrorism is and means. How you label the Las Vegas tragedy is up to your station, although there are questions about domestic terrorism worth excavating. These include: Is it time for the United States to create new legislation on domestic terrorism? Should our current definition of terrorism as is stated in the law change? Should hate crimes, which already have a separate federal designation, be legally classified as domestic terrorism? Are concerns about impacts on free speech legitimate? What are local attitudes about these subjects?
  • Fake news. Fast Company pointed out the proliferation of conspiracy theories and false reports in the wake of Las Vegas. It’s part of a larger problem of misinformation that spreads via social media. How can your listeners be better media consumers? How can you help them spot fake news? Where can your audience go to independently confirm what they see online? First Draft also poses questions to your station before you cover misinformation.
  • Automatic weapons. There is a great deal of dialogue right now about access to firearms, especially automatic weapons. As many sources have reported, there is a federal ban on automatic weapons. Wired remarks on how someone can spend enough money to convert guns illegally. While media outlets are discussing how well or poorly the gun market is policed, other potential avenues to examine include how widespread or small the black market in illegal firearms is projected to be in the United States, where local law enforcement is finding the greatest proliferation in illegal guns, and how the public can and should report violations of pertinent local, state and federal laws.
  • Firearms regulation. Some contend guns should be banned or further regulated. Others say those licensed to carry concealed weapons can thwart attackers. Such contentions are part of the wider firearms debate. What local polling exists about gun attitudes in your state? Can you find researchers in your area who can help you explore the data and where residents’ attitudes originate? Much gets made of lobbying. However, public attitudes about guns and the law may be worth a closer look as you build local coverage.

It is prudent for stations to avoid as much as possible conjecture or contributing to partisanship when covering the shootings. First, it is important to bear in mind your listeners come to you for fairness and more nuanced approaches. The media is already giving out a lot of spin. Second, there remains strong public and Congressional support, regardless of political party, for firearms. However, implicitly or explicitly blaming Congress or the public for its longtime support for guns may detract from clearly disturbed behavior as the nation witnessed, and is united against, in Las Vegas.

While the Las Vegas investigation is ongoing, your community radio station can serve as an essential source for listeners by going further into the story. NFCB is happy to help amplify your work on these and other stories you cover.

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