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Inside the newsroom: Covering mass shootings from a distance

FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2019, file photo, Rene Aguilar and Jackie Flores pray at a makeshift memorial for the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at a shopping complex in El Paso, Texas.
FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2019, file photo, Rene Aguilar and Jackie Flores pray at a makeshift memorial for the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at a shopping complex in El Paso, Texas.
Andres Leighton, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — One of the roles journalists play is to seek news and information that helps us understand and process things that are difficult to comprehend.

Such was the case last week as the nation mourned the loss of 22 people killed inside a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and the nine shot dead hours later in Dayton, Ohio.

Our news editors and opinion editors gathered reporters together and asked a simple question: What can the Deseret News do to help readers understand the events of El Paso and Dayton, their implications, and can we provide leadership toward a solution to one of the nation's most difficult issues: mass shootings?

Inside the newsroom this week it dominated much of our work.

FILE - Family and friends gather for a funeral service for Jordan Anchondo at Evergreen Cemetery in El Paso, Texas on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019. Andre and Jordan Anchondo, were among the several people killed last Saturday, when a gunman opened fire inside
FILE - Family and friends gather for a funeral service for Jordan Anchondo at Evergreen Cemetery in El Paso, Texas on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019. Andre and Jordan Anchondo, were among the several people killed last Saturday, when a gunman opened fire inside a Walmart packed with shoppers. Authorities say Jordan Anchondo was shielding the baby, while her husband shielded them both.
Jorge Salgado, Associated Press

"In the midst of crisis, leadership happens when those who are in a position of trust call others to three things — clarity, courage and a cause," said Boyd Matheson, opinion editor of the Deseret News.

"The Deseret News team was determined to cut through the clamor, noise, anger and speculation with rigorous journalism, highlight heroic actions and provide reasons for hope, and challenge elected officials and citizens to unite in the cause of commonsense solutions," he said.

Boyd and I meet every morning with the opinion team. I also meet with newsroom editors and our in-depth team as we cover news here in Utah and focus on key issues facing the nation.

FILE - President Donald Trump shakes hands with El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. Trump paid visits to cities reeling from mass shootings that left multiple people dead and wounded.
FILE - President Donald Trump shakes hands with El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. Trump paid visits to cities reeling from mass shootings that left multiple people dead and wounded.
Mark Lambie, El Paso Times

Immediately we knew we were uniquely positioned to provide context. During the past year we've gone in depth on white supremacy, violent video games, guns and the Second Amendment, and mental health concerns. All four topics would be on display during the week, starting with President Donald Trump offering opinions on all four of those topics.

We've looked at white nationalsim's creep onto college campuses, why experts (and parents) want more study of the impact of video games, and an exploration of gun accessibility. The goal of these stories is to take it away from a political discussion of winners and losers, into information that can lead to action to solve this problem and help all of us feel safe and be safe.

Utah faced a mass shooting Feb. 12, 2007, when a gunman came to Trolley Square in Salt Lake City and shot and killed five people, injuring four others. More than a decade later, the nation is no closer to understanding the problem and reasons for such action today than it was then.

We went to work.

Deseret News reporters Lois Collins and Jennifer Graham reported that mental health experts and researchers are beginning to push back against the notion that mental illness and gaming are major drivers of gun violence.

FILE - Demonstrators gather to protest the arrival of President Donald Trump outside Miami Valley Hospital after a mass shooting that occurred in the Oregon District early Sunday morning, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, in Dayton.
FILE - Demonstrators gather to protest the arrival of President Donald Trump outside Miami Valley Hospital after a mass shooting that occurred in the Oregon District early Sunday morning, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, in Dayton.
John Minchillo, Associated Press

Reporter Matt Brown, who covered hearings on domestic terrorism and white supremacy in Washington, D.C., earlier this year, wrote a piece detailing that federal agencies have acknowledged they don't have the tools to prevent domestic terrorism.

Kelsey Dallas looked at the relationship between religion and white nationalism, doing a question-and-answer piece with Andrew Whitehead, an associate professor of sociology at Clemson University and of co-author of a forthcoming book titled "Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States." It looks at extremism and allows readers to weigh whether they agree or disagree with Whitehead's conclusions.

Reporter Erica Evans grew up in Dayton, Ohio. Her very personal reaction to the shootings appeared in a piece she wrote Monday under the headline, "When a mass shooting hits your hometown." Her insightful look allows us to reflect on whether we would feel differently if the tragedy were close to home. And if the answer is yes, can we muster enough concern for victims everywhere to do something about it.

Erica joined Boyd Matheson on KSL Newsradio to share her views on our opinion editor's daily radio show, "Inside Sources." Deseret News reporter Tad Walch also joined the radio program as he and Boyd discussed their trip earlier this year to New Zealand.

Tad reported from one of the mosques in Christchurch, where 51 people were killed in March. His unique perspective, speaking with Abdul Aziz about that horrific day, provides hope of moving beyond such a tragedy.

The opinion team made a challenge to Congress in three editorials: "After Dayton and El Paso we're giving Congress 21 days to move the country forward." As lawmakers and others weighed in on that challenge one of the comments reflected the frustration of the country: "That's two weeks too long."

Here was the challenge by the opinion team: "President Trump should immediately convene the nation’s top leaders — not a useless blue-ribbon panel of experts but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, under the leadership of Vice President Mike Pence — and charge them with coming up with effective, bipartisan legislation within 21 days."

McConnell will not call the Senate back from recess. We still have hope that those in power can get something done.

This next week will provide different challenges. But hopefully the lessons of last week will not be forgotten and can be built upon to actually get something done.