A horrific scene in 2005’s Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line” depicts a grief-stricken Johnny at the deathbed of his beloved brother Jack, severely injured from a head saw accident that occurred after Johnny wandered off from their shared wood-sawing chore to go fishing. “Do somethin’!” Johnny implores his parents. “Do somethin’!”
Of course, nothing can be done — the boy has lost too much blood. Their mother, Carrie, strokes the boy’s forehead and softly hums one of Jack’s favourite Gospel hymns. Unsurprisingly, guilt about the accident haunts the Johnny’s life.
Sometimes nothing can be done.
This is not one of those times. And the youth of the United States are asking the grown-ups to step up and help.
In an interview with CNN after yet another U.S. mass school shooting left 17 people dead in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 17-year-old high school senior David Hogg put it bluntly: “We’re children. You guys are the adults.”
Hogg, student news director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, interviewed fellow students on camera about gun control policy — while all were hiding from an active shooter in their midst. The live gunfire and its aftermath were captured on students’ phones and shared widely via texts and social media. And now these students and others across the country are asking for political action.
Playing off the important #MeToo language and movement, a #MeNext movement has launched. The mother of the high school girl who created the hashtag said this:
MeNext: Friday, February 16, 2018
Today, our daughter led a student walkout from her high school to protest the inaction of lawmakers at every level of government on gun control legislation and school safety. We are asking all students in the US who agree to post photos of themselves with #menext. Please share as widely as possible and like our page. THANK YOU. Let us all help our children’s voices to be heard. As adults, thus far, we have failed to keep them safe in today’s America.
Clearly, there is a role for news media companies not only in reporting the almost weekly death toll from mass shootings. There is a clear leadership role for news media companies as communities large and small across the country cry out for action to end the carnage.
We’ve done our damnedest in other circumstances. Our coverage and attention sheds light on the delightful and light-hearted. It sheds light on the trials and tribulations in our communities.
We use our coverage to rally around our favourite sports teams and publish colourful cheer cards when teams advance to national tournament play. We use it to help a family in our town after their house burns down. We write stories to celebrate a sell-out concert of an epically popular recording artist. We write stories and editorialise to ask readers to donate whatever they can to help the less fortunate in our midst enjoy the Christmas holiday.
News media companies have helped elect presidents. We have helped bring down corrupt presidents. We have used our front pages to editorialise in extreme circumstances. For example, three Alabama newspapers ran “Reject Roy Moore” editorials last December. On April 10, 2016, The Boston Globe ran a fake front page envisioning “Trump’s America” and the social changes that might result from a successful presidential bid.
Now is the time for us to do something. For example, using our significant collective muscle to research, report, and editorialise about how other industrialised nations have dealt with their gun control policies. We are a community of news media marketers who understand we, too, have a leadership role in influencing change.
Yes, others will lead — with impassioned speeches, candlelight vigils, visits to the offices of legislators. Our newsrooms will cover it.
But we, too, can lead, especially now that virtually nowhere is safe any longer: not elementary or high school classrooms, not movie theaters, malls, or Las Vegas outdoor country music festivals. Not even churches are safe.
Surely, we have a role in making sense of the senseless and becoming active participants in indisputably needed change. Let’s share our collective smarts and lean on our unmatched trust in communities to make a difference now.
The future of our audiences depends on it.