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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: A message to reporters — UNC students need time to heal


Reporters interview students outside of Alpine Bagel on Sept.13, 2023.

Last Wednesday at 2:11 p.m., UNC students received an all-clear Alert Carolina message after their second lockdown in 16 days due to an "armed and dangerous person on or near campus."

After sheltering in place for over an hour, many students' first instinct was to look for their friends and ensure their safety. 

But as students left the buildings they had sheltered in, some were met by a reporter with a microphone. News outlets naturally jumped to cover the event — a second lockdown because of an armed individual at UNC in 16 days is an impactful story.

When students were released from lockdown, there was no official confirmation that a suspect was in custody. The University had just issued the all-clear, and a WRAL camera crew was already stationed in the Pit, clamoring to get students on air. 

Given that we had already seen reporters flock to UNC's campus after the first lockdown after the death of Zijie Yan, it was hard to feel surprised.  

We had to repeat everything we went through on Aug. 28 — the shock, the fear, the waiting. So many students were in the same places they were 16 days prior, as the lockdowns happened at the same time of the day. We were reliving an unimaginable event. 

Regardless of this fact, students were given no time to process this situation before being asked to be a primary source for news organizations like ABC11 and WRAL. 

We do not believe it should be considered normal to approach reporting on sensitive topics with such haste, even if there is a journalistic precedent for it.

As student journalists, we understand the importance of documenting and informing the community in times of crises. Naturally, coverage of an on-campus event would be near-worthless without first-person student sources. Simultaneously, we think journalists have a responsibility to consider the well-being and safety of those in dangerous situations.

As journalists at The Daily Tar Heel, we try to approach this responsibility with care and compassion — an approach we urge other news organizations to take as well. 

It is our opinion that news organizations should not air live videos of students in lockdown with their location displayed — it feels like an insincere grab for views. 

But the issue is larger than these two events on UNC's campus. This situation calls into question the ethics of journalism and content creation. It reveals how certain groups and individuals may value a story, or engagement, more than the lives that might be at stake.   

There is a clear question here: Why did some news organizations seem to prioritize their agendas above the safety of students on Aug. 28 and Sept.13? 

Perhaps that's just how the news works. Perhaps it's the need to be the first to the scene, the first to have an exclusive, that drives this behavior. 

Regardless of how insensitive this is, it is not surprising. We are disappointed that some news organizations care more about publishing a story than giving students the space and time to process two traumatic events. 

Seeing the Pit, the heart of campus usually swarming with students, being taken over by news crews was unsettling and left a bitter taste in our mouths. Many students had never been in an active shooter situation until Aug. 28. Too many of us can now say they have lived through multiple gun-related lockdowns, and we need time to process that.

Too many students have stories of reporters asking them questions about their location and emotions while in lockdown. We only ask for reporters, including ourselves, to reevaluate their journalistic judgment. How do we more delicately balance getting a story and showing respect for those we want to feature?   

In events like the lockdowns on Aug. 28 and Sept. 13, we are students first and sources second. In events like those, questions and cameras can wait.

@delcrawl @le_hahahaha 

@dthopinion |

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Le Ha

Le Ha is the 2023-24 opinion editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an editorial board member. Le is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and information science, with a business minor.