In The Virginia Tech Tragedy, What Is The Right Amount Of Coverage?

It has now been two days since the shootings at Virginia Tech, and the discussion is starting about how much coverage the media is devoting to the tragedy. For the last two nights, the "Evening News" has aired in an expanded hour-long version, almost all of which has been devoted to the shootings. CBS also aired an hour-long special last night, "Virginia Tech: Anatomy Of A Rampage," part 1 of which you can watch by clicking on the video box.

Other networks have aired similar specials, and the cable networks have covered the story almost exclusively since it broke. Newspapers and the Internet have also been an invaluable and easily accessible resource for those looking for more information. Yesterday, I posted a quote from a Paul Farhi story in the Washington Post complaining about the lack of coverage of the tragedy in primetime; that piece prompted this exchange in a Washington Post online chat, an exchange highlighted by Jim Romenesko:

Too much coverage or not enough?: Am I the only one who thought the coverage was excessive? From the parts I saw around 7 p.m., while not prime time, it seemed like the stations were reporting the same information over and over again to the point that it seemed a little ridiculous as there was no new information being released.

Paul Farhi: Don't get me wrong: I'm not arguing for repetition. I AM arguing for putting important news in front of people during the hours most them watch TV. I also found interesting the comments from Tom Kunkel at the Univ. of Md. and Tom Rosenstiel at the Project for Excellence in Journalism, who said putting the news in primetime is *symbolically* important because it says to the public "This is what we should be focused on as a nation."

There is little doubt that the coverage has, at times, seemed repetitious – though it's somewhat unfair to blame news outlets for that fact, as they have had a lot of airtime to fill, and have largely done so admirably. My only complaint is that, in the early going, there was more discussion about who we should blame than seemed appropriate so soon after the tragedy.

Indeed, it's difficult to make the case, with all of the resources available to news consumers, that those who want to follow this story have been underserved. But the argument made above, that the networks should have given the story more primetime coverage for symbolic reasons, is worth thinking about. When a tragedy like this takes place, do television networks have a responsibility to put it front and center during primetime in order to focus the nation's attention – even if they have little to add to the coverage already available?