By taking such a bold step, television, print and Web executives could help society and maybe even save lives. Media do-gooders often point to the positive ways in which they help people to live better lives. Now, those in charge can accomplish something truly noteworthy by doing nothing at all, and it wouldn't cost a dime.
Like everyone else, I winced when I heard that yet another troubled young man had gunned down innocent bystanders. This time, it happened in Omaha, but the script didn't seem all that different from the tragedies at Virginia Tech and Columbine.
I'll leave it to sociologists and psychiatrists to try to make sense of it. But I believe that media executives can help to minimize the possibilities of future incidents if they ceased to provide such high-profile publicity to these deranged gunmen.
The "gunman" in the Omaha episode was actually a teenager who desperately wanted the kind of publicity that the 24/7 media establishment could give him. He reportedly left behind a note proclaiming, "Now I'll be famous."
How did he know he'd be immortalized? Simple. He knew he could count on his enablers: The media would inevitably spread his fame by identifying him in reports in Omaha, across the U.S. and throughout the world.
We in the communications world practically enabled the kid by giving him, posthumously, what he wanted all along. Shame on us.
It doesn't have to be this way, though. What if the media covered all the nuances of the story but ceased naming the vicious and disturbed murderers who kill for the kicks of getting their names on the evening news and on the front pages of newspapers, magazines and Web sites?
I know well the argument against what I am proposing: The person's name is obviously a big element of the story. The public has a right to know. It's news.
That said, my point of view is an extreme one. I realize that once journalists are asked to start concealing public information, it could be construed as a slippery slope. However, I believe in this instance, the greater good to the public outweighs its need to know a lunatic fame-seeker.
The round-the-clock world of cable news, talk radio and the Internet practically demands that the media find a new and productive way to deal with society's misfits. It would take a Herculean amount of restraint for news executives to break with tradition, I know. But they could still cover the stories with drama and flair.
Show some class and some guts, folks.
: Do you agree that the media should no longer identify crazed fame-seekers, like the one who terrorized an Omaha shopping mall on Wednesday?
: "Omaha Paper Blankets Mall Shooting -- Web Traffic Demand Delays Site" By Joe Strupp, Editor & Publisher (Dec. 6). .
to my call in Wednesday's column ( in the Pet Peeve section) for some civility in the cable-news wars:
"Jon, I have no objection to your critique of my shots at Fox Business, but I think fairness requires you to note that mine were responsive, not pre-emptive. This episode began when they tried to trash Jim Cramer after a report that they'd made a run to grab him away from CNBC. Instead of not commenting, or simply denying their interest, they deprecated Cramer and NBC -- and, typically, they did it anonymously. You may not like what I say about them, but at least you don't have to guess the name of who you're criticizing, when you don't."
-- Keith Olbermann. (Olbermann is the host of MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann")
(Media Web appears on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Feel free to send email to .)
By Jon Friedman