[This article was updated at 1:59 p.m.]
A group of around ten students gathered outside of I.V. Deli Mart yesterday afternoon to protest the prolonged media presence at the memorial of second-year English major Christopher Michaels-Martinez, a victim of Friday night’s mass killing.
Outlets covering the aftermath of the killings included channels affiliated with networks ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN, among others from around the world. As of yesterday a Google News search of ‘Isla Vista’ yielded over 5,000 news items related to the massacre. Yesterday afternoon, a group of students put together signs and crowded around the memorial in front of I.V. Deli Mart, hoping to discourage news crews from continuing their film coverage. Reporters have been at the scene since early Saturday.
Tracy Lehr, a reporter with local ABC affiliate KEYT, said that while the protesters make valid points and have “every right” to demonstrate, journalists have an obligation to cover the story because of the high level of public interest in the massacre and its aftermath.
“The world cares about this story because this is one of the Nobel Prize-winning universities in the country, and bad things keep happening here,” Lehr said. “I’m a journalist and that’s what I am, I don’t know how to do anything else. I’m not going to turn away from this because something has to be done to make this a nicer place for young people to live.”
Fourth-year global studies major Rose Mertens, who organized the protest, said the overwhelming media coverage made mourning difficult and uncomfortable for students trying to honor Martinez’s memory.
“I wanted to pay my respects to the person that died here but I didn’t feel comfortable doing that because there was a perimeter of media surrounding the memorial and I didn’t want to be filmed,” Mertens said.
With signs bearing slogans such as “News Crews, Go Home!” “This is Our Reality, Not Your Story!” and “Let Us Grieve In Peace,” the protest was successful in making news crews leave the scene, according to Mertens.
“It was really a process of taking back this space to be what it is, a memorial instead of a news [story],” Mertens said. “If the media crews stayed here and they filmed all this, that’s awesome because we are getting our point across to people that they are violating our space. Just like they have First Amendment rights, we do too.”
Fourth-year psychology major Michael Brito said he thought the extensive coverage of the killings and their aftermath was heavily sensationalized.
“I believe that it’s a lot of sensationalizing [of] an awful tragedy,” Brito said. “They’re really just feeding off this.”
Flying Cow Satellite Services owner Robb Murphy was providing broadcast equipment on-scene for a television network but declined to state which one. Although he sympathized with the protesters, he said he was just there to do his job.
“This young lady’s got a sign that says that everybody knows what happened, let us heal,” Murphy said, referring to a nearby protester. “She’s right.”
Murphy said he will continue to work in the area until he is told to leave by a higher chain of command.
“It’s what I do, it’s my company,” Murphy said. “We provide transmission for networks, and as long as they want to be here, I’ll be here.”
Mertens said she recognizes the need for journalists to report on the incident, but said they should do so in an ethically responsible manner and be considerate to those mourning the victims.
“Obviously it needs to be covered, but my roommate is a journalist for The Bottom Line and she says the number one journalistic principle is do no harm,” Mertens said. “By the media setting up right here they are doing harm; they’re preventing people from grieving.”
With the exception of updates posted to Twitter, The Bottom Line remained silent on the events until the publication posted an editorial late on Saturday explaining the staff’s decision to delay its coverage. Citing the Society of Professional Journalists, a former editor wrote that the Associated Students publication intended to “minimize harm, whether physical or emotional,” to their reporters.
In an article published Monday by former UCSB Student Publications Manager Jerry Roberts, SPJ leader Peter Sussman said such an interpretation of the organization’s code “certainly wasn’t one of the intended readings of that code section, and it’s commonly balanced with another core principle in the code, “Seek truth and report it.” They seem to have ignored the latter, and along with it, the obligation to shed whatever unique light the students themselves could have cast on the tragedy in their midst.”
Photos by Kenneth Song, John Clow & Eric Swenson / Daily Nexus