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date: 27 January 2021

School Shootings in the Mediafree

  • Glenn MuschertGlenn MuschertDepartment of Sociology & Gerontology, Miami University
  •  and Jaclyn SchildkrautJaclyn SchildkrautDepartment of Public Justice, State University of New York (SUNY), Oswego


Stories about crime are staples in modern mainstream media, with the greatest emphasis placed on the most extreme cases. School shootings are particularly exemplary of this, as when word breaks of such an event, various forms of media, including the television, radio, and newspaper formats, as well as social media, become inundated with stories. This around-the-clock attention often lasts for hours and days, and with the most extreme cases, even weeks. As most people never will experience such a school shooting directly, the media then becomes the dominant conduit from which to glean information about the event.

How these cases are presented in the news can impact audiences as much as the number of stories that are aired or printed can. Consequently, researchers have explored the way in which these stories are framed to glean a better understanding of how information about the shootings are presented by the media. Such a line of inquiry is important as violent entertainment media (e.g., movies and video games) in particular have been criticized as possible contributing factors for the events in the first place. Additionally, mass shootings not only are abundant in the news, they also have appeared in popular media including television, film, and even music. Collectively, the media also has the ability to impact the perceptions of school shootings, particularly as the coverage relates to things like fear of crime or even copycat or contagion effects.

Prevalence of News Coverage

While the exact number of school shooting events is unknown due to definitional issues (see Elsass, Schildkraut, & Stafford, 2015; Schildkraut & Elsass, 2016), it is safe to say that they are exceedingly rare. On average, less than 20 events occur each year (Fox & DeLateur, 2014; Schildkraut, 2012; Schildkraut, Elsass, & Stafford, 2015), though the level of media attention these events garner gives the appearance that they are happening much more frequently. In the aftermath of such a tragedy, coverage of the attack can last for hours or days; in the most extreme examples, such as the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School or the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the media attention may be more prolonged. This holds across multiple news formats, including television, newspaper, and even Internet-based sources (see, generally, Schildkraut, 2012; Schildkraut & Elsass, 2016).

A common way in which to understand the breadth of news coverage of school shootings is to examine the number of newspaper articles that are published about the case. Unlike the television news format, newspapers often have more space that they can allocate to covering a story, particularly if it is of high interest, and their news cycle allows for more time (relatively speaking) to be dedicated to story generation. While a 30-minute newscast can only devote a fraction of the time to covering the case, a newspaper can offer not just longer articles, but also multiple stories throughout its pages.

The Columbine shooting, for example, generated a considerable amount of media coverage in the form of newspaper articles. In The New York Times, for example, 170 articles were published on the case in just the first 30 days following the attack (Chyi & McCombs, 2004; Muschert & Carr, 2006; Schildkraut & Muschert, 2014). In the nation’s 50 largest newspapers, over 10,000 stories were published within a year of the shooting (Newman, 2006). Coverage, however, was even more prevalent at the local level. In the same first 30 days examined by the Chyi and McCombs (2004) study, as well as its replications (Muschert & Carr, 2006; Schildkraut & Muschert, 2014), nearly 750 articles were published in The Denver Post—the area’s main newspaper—alone.

Interestingly, despite having higher death tolls, other school shootings failed to garner the same level of newspaper attention as Columbine, likely due to the fact that many perceive the 1999 attack to be the first of its kind. The 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, which claimed the lives of 32 students and faculty members, garnered just 63 articles in The New York Times within the first 30 days (Schildkraut, 2012). The Sandy Hook shooting, in which 20 first grade students and six of their educators were killed (double the fatality count of Columbine), garnered 130 articles in the same time frame in The Times (Schildkraut, 2014; Schildkraut & Muschert, 2014). Other shootings, including the attacks at Westside Middle School (Jonesboro, Arkansas) in 1998, Red Lake High School (Minnesota) in 2005, and Northern Illinois University in 2008, have generated even less coverage, particularly in national sources (see, generally, Schildkraut, 2014).

Disparities in news coverage of school shootings are evident not only in the newspaper format, but across television broadcasting as well. Across evening news broadcasts, Columbine was the most covered crime story of the year, with 319 stories being aired (Robinson, 2011). In fact, Robinson (2011) found that the three major news networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) devoted at least half of their nightly news airtime to covering the shooting for a full month after it happened. A study by Maguire, Weatherby, and Mathers (2002) yielded similar findings, specifically that over a one-week period, 53 stories (totaling nearly four hours of airtime) were allocated just to covering Columbine. In comparing that amount of coverage to 13 other shootings collectively for the same one-week time period, the amount was nearly equitable between the two groups (Maguire et al., 2002). Similarly, 60% of network news airtime was dedicated to coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2007).

The introduction of 24-hour cable news stations, beginning with CNN in 1980 (Medina, 2003), also has impacted how much media attention events like school shootings receive. This first was evident with the Columbine shooting, when CNN broke with live coverage from the scene, which they aired uninterrupted for six hours (Muschert, 2002). Since then, CNN and its main competitors—Fox News and MSNBC—have continued to follow the “live from the scene” format following other school shootings. In the aftermath of Virginia Tech, approximately 76% of cable news network airtime was devoted to covering the attack (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2007). Once news of the Sandy Hook shooting broke, nearly every broadcast on these stations was live from Newtown; the continuous stream of coverage lasted for more than three straight days (Applebome & Stetler, 2012; Askar, 2012). Shows on these networks in the late afternoon and evening slots attracted, on average, between two and three million viewers (Kondolojy, 2012). CNN’s The Situation Room, hosted by anchor Wolf Blitzer, was the second-highest rated cable show among adults 18 to 49 during the week of the attack, according to Nielsen ratings (Kondolojy, 2012).

Due to its lack of constraints on the amount of content that can be generated, the Internet has become a newer form of media to which audiences turn for information in the minutes and hours after a school shooting. Whether a news broadcast has gone off the air or a paper is in between prints, these organizations often turn to their affiliated websites to post additional information in the interim. This, in turn, drives millions of news consumers to these websites, as was evidenced following the Virginia Tech shooting. On average, in the year prior to the shootings, the websites affiliated with CNN and Fox News garnered 450,000 and 900,000 daily viewers, respectively (Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2006). On the day of the attacks, however, CNN attracted 1.4 million viewers while Fox News drew in an additional 1.8 million unique users (Garofoli, 2007). Similarly, MSNBC’s website experienced a surge of traffic, jumping to 108.8 million visits on the day of the shooting (Garofoli, 2007), up from the average of 400,000 page views daily (, 2011).

Both individually across specific events and collectively as a phenomenon, these numbers serve to underscore the importance of school shootings. Both Virginia Tech (Pew Research Center, 2007) and Sandy Hook (Pew Research Center, 2012) were among the top news stories of their respective months and years. Both cases still managed to garner a considerable amount of media attention despite other high profile national stories including (but certainly not limited to) tensions in the Middle East, Hurricane Sandy, the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and the 2012 presidential election. In 1999, Columbine attracted the most interest of any news story that year, with 68% of polled news viewers saying they closely followed the story (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 1999). The shooting also was the third most closely followed news story of its entire decade, which also included the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Gulf War, the terrorist attack at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the standoff and siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the President Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 1999).

Media Framing of School Shootings

It is not solely how much attention the media offers related to school shootings that is so influential on shaping audience perceptions about these events. Rather, it is what is being offered through the content itself that has the greatest effect on news consumers. Accordingly, researchers (e.g., Chyi & McCombs, 2004; Muschert & Carr, 2006; Schildkraut, 2012; Schildkraut & Muschert, 2014) have examined the framing of these stories to better understand the presentation of information about school shootings. Media framing looks at the ways in which stories are organized and how certain themes or characteristics change or remain stable over time.

In their analysis of the media framing of the Columbine shooting, Chyi and McCombs (2004) introduced a two-dimensional measurement scheme through which to analyze news articles. Specifically, they suggest that space (where) and time (when) are the most important dimensions of a story’s coverage, and therefore should be the focus of any framing research (Chyi & McCombs, 2004). Examining the space dimension essentially allows researchers to examine journalists’ descriptions of who is being impacted—be it individuals, a community, or society at large—based on how the story is structured. Similarly, the time dimension enables the event to be discussed as something with relevance in the past (focusing on the events leading up to the shooting), the present (referring to the event itself and immediate aftermath), and the future (referencing the broader, long range impact of the attack).

Applying their measurement scheme to The New York Times’s coverage of Columbine, Chyi and McCombs (2004) found that it was most common for writers to utilize a societal frame, thereby contextualizing the shooting in the broader implications it produced for the nation. Nearly half as many articles emphasized how the shooting impacted the community of Littleton and the Denver metropolitan area, while just 17% of stories focused on the individuals involved in the attack (either as victims or as the perpetrators). Further, the use of these frames varied across five-day intervals. Similarly, frame-changing also was found to occur on the time dimension of the coverage. Not surprisingly, the majority of the news stories (71%) were written in the present as to focus on the immediate impact of the event. While 16% of the stories examined focused on the past—that is, telling the backstory about the shooting (e.g., planning)—these were found early on in the coverage. By the last 10 days, however, these frames were absent, instead allowing the writers (and thereby the audience) to focus on the more long-range impacts of the attack.

Several additional studies (e.g., Muschert & Carr, 2006; Schildkraut & Muschert, 2014) have employed Chyi and McCombs’s measurement scheme in order to draw comparisons between the framing patterns in the coverage of the Columbine shooting to other similar attacks. Muschert and Carr (2006), for example, compared The New York Times’s coverage of Columbine to eight other school shootings that happened in the same time frame (between 1997 and 2001). First, the researchers highlighted the disparities in coverage, such as that the Columbine shooting alone received 170 articles in The Times, whereas the remaining eight shootings totaled 120 articles collectively. In examining the data as a whole (all nine events), the authors found that framing patterns mirrored the Columbine coverage as determined in Chyi and McCombs’s study. By looking at frame-changing by events, however, Muschert and Carr also were able to understand how these patterns changed as the phenomenon evolved. Specifically, early shootings in the data, such as the 1997 Pearl High School (Mississippi) shooting, primarily relied on the community frame, meaning that the coverage was focused on the impact of the attack on the community of Pearl, with little consideration of any potential reach to the nation at large. The use of the community frame then began to wane over subsequent shootings, reemerging as the predominant space frame in the 2001 shooting at El Cajon High School in California. Conversely, the societal frame, which was not used at all in the Pearl shooting, peaked at Columbine, highlighting the broader impact of this attack, then slowly tapered off in subsequent shootings’ coverage. Interestingly, across the time spectrum, nearly all articles, regardless of shooting, were framed in the present.

Schildkraut and Muschert (2014) compared the frame-changing of the Columbine coverage to that of the Sandy Hook shooting. This provided an interesting juxtaposition since not only was Sandy Hook more lethal (whereas the supplementary cases in the Muschert and Carr study had not been), but the shooting also was more spatial proximate to the paper being analyzed. While the finding that the societal frame was the most commonly used was consistent with the previous studies (Chyi & McCombs, 2004; Muschert & Carr, 2006), the more heavily emphasized use of the individual frame was a departure, as the community frame typically had been used more frequently. The overall framing patterns indicated that the initial coverage of the Sandy Hook shooting began by considering the broader national impact of the shooting, then shifting to focus on the individual participants, before ultimately shifting to consider what the shooting meant for the community of Newtown and then the greater region (i.e., the state of Connecticut). Also consistent with the prior studies was the finding that across the time dimension, the coverage of Newtown most commonly only was considered for its immediate aftermath. In fact, of all of the shootings examined using this measurement scheme, only Columbine provided a considerable need for speculation as to what the event meant for the future; relying on the attack as a precedent allowed for others to focus on what they meant in the now.

Examining the media framing of news stories also allows for a more in-depth analysis to these specific dimensions. Several studies, for example, have given greater consideration to the individual space frame to understand how the victims of these tragedies are discussed within the coverage. Muschert (2007) examined nearly 700 stories from both print and broadcast media, uncovering several themes in the coverage: identification and description of the victims, details of their deaths, coverage of their memorial services, and social issues stemming from the shooting. The analysis also revealed that the majority of the coverage of the victims was found earlier in the analysis (within the first 10 days), then tapered off as more time passed. Additionally, differences existed between the intensity of the coverage various victims received, with some being featured more in the stories than others.

In a separate article, Schildkraut (2012) compared the framing of the Virginia Tech shooting in both The New York Times, a hard news source, and the New York Post, which features more infotainment-type content. With regard to the individual-level frame, several important findings were uncovered. Like Muschert’s (2007) work on Columbine, the results indicated that certain victims were featured more than others in the coverage, a finding which held across both news sources analyzed. Additionally, in both sources, the shooter, rather than the victims, was more heavily focused on. In fact, the Post highlighted the shooter nearly 10 times as often as any of the victims; The Times also referenced the gunman more than three times as frequently. In sum, these studies highlighted the disparate nature of reporting of school shootings, which can have far-reaching implications, particularly among the audience members who consume these stories.

Violent Media as a Causal Factor for School Shootings

In a broad sense, the media have served not only to provide information to audiences about these events, but they also often are viewed as complicit in their aftermath. Following a school shooting, many readers and viewers seek answers as to why the event has occurred in an attempt to identify warning signs to help avert the next rampage. Oftentimes, politicians and other claims makers point to one of the three “usual suspects”—guns, mental health, and violent media (Schildkraut & Muschert, 2013; see also Schildkraut, Elsass, & Muschert, 2016). Though violent media usually is cited the least as a potential causal factor, it still has played a starring role in the discourse in the aftermath of several high-profile shootings.

One of the first instances where the issue about the influence of violent media on the perpetrators was with the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. When it was revealed through the investigation that the shooters were fans of “Goth rock” bands, including Rammstein and KMFDM, these and similar artists immediately became cause for concern (Schildkraut & Elsass, 2016; Schildkraut & Muschert, 2013). One specific artist—Marilyn Manson—actually was directly blamed for inciting the attack (Bell, 2012; Cullen, 2009; Frymer, 2009; Schildkraut & Elsass, 2016; Schildkraut & Muschert, 2013), despite later reports that revealed the shooters never had listened to his music (Willis, 2015). Even two years after the attack, his Denver concert, part of the larger Ozzfest series, was canceled due to widespread and intense backlash from the public (D’Angelo, 2001; Walsh & Mazza, 2001).

Despite the blameworthiness of music, Cullen (2009) suggests that “the pop culture artifact most heavily associated with the Columbine massacre” was the movie Natural Born Killers (p. 197). Other researchers (e.g., Frymer, 2009; Larkin, 2007) also highlight the important influence of the movie on the shooters. The film chronicles a pair of serial killers traveling across the country, embarking on a murder spree while simultaneously trying to avoid law enforcement (Frymer, 2009). The Columbine shooters were so fascinated by the movie that, in their journals, they used the codename “NBK” to reference their attack (Cullen, 2009; Frymer, 2009; Larkin, 2007). Other films, including (but not limited to) The Basketball Diaries and The Matrix, also were said to influence Columbine and other attacks (Birkland & Lawrence, 2009; Springhall, 1999; see also Kellner, 2008; Schildkraut, 2012; Sedensky, 2013), though these claims never were substantiated.

Violent video games also have been suggested to influence the shooters. Narratives following early school shootings, including those at Columbine (Sanders v. Acclaim Entertainment, Inc., 2002) and Heath High School in 1997 (James v. Meow Media, Inc., 2002), highlighted the role that computer games, such as Doom or Quake, had in allowing the gunmen to simulate their attacks before they happened. Makers of both games were sued for their perceived culpability, though the cases were dismissed prior to oral arguments (Schildkraut & Elsass, 2016). More recently, first-person shooter video games, such as Call of Duty and its multiple sequels (e.g., Black Ops 2, Modern Warfare), have come under scrutiny for their potential role in these attacks, particularly after it was revealed that the Sandy Hook gunman, as well as several other perpetrators of mass shootings outside of schools, spent hours playing these games (Fox & DeLateur, 2014; Ferguson, 2014; Henderson, 2012; Jaccarino, 2013). Despite mixed findings throughout the academic research pertaining to the correlation between video games and aggressive behavior, a number of scholars (e.g., Ferguson, 2014; Ferguson & Olson, 2014; Fox & DeLateur, 2014; Markey, Markey, & French, 2014) have failed to find support between video game violence and mass shootings.

What also escapes the discourse pertaining to mass shootings and violent media is just how many people consume it. Marilyn Manson, for example, has sold over 50 million albums worldwide (Marilyn Manson, n.d.). Natural Born Killers grossed over $11 million in its opening weekend at the box office alone (, n.d.). Similarly, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 sold over 11 million copies in its first week of release (Kain, 2012). Despite that nearly all of these individuals never commit a school shooting, it does not end the speculation of their potential responsibility in the attacks. Further, it fails to stop members of the general public from blaming the media (Newport, 1999) or demanding that it be regulated more heavily (Carlson, 2002; Newport, 2012).

School Shootings and Popular Media

In addition to school shootings being heavily featured in the news, these events also have been immortalized through works of popular media, including music, movies, and television shows (Schildkraut & Elsass, 2016). These works not only span different forms of media, they also are integrated into works that target different audiences. Doing so enables the media producers to highlight different aspects of the story, from the event itself to potential warnings signs to possible responses should one find themselves in a similar situation.

Even before the Columbine shooting took hold of national attention, several popular teen dramas—Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season 2, Episode 3 [1997]) and 7th Heaven (Season 3, Episode 7 [1998])—featured school shootings in their plot lines. After the shooting, a second episode of 7th Heaven (Season 6, Episode 2 [2001]) featured a school shooting. Other popular shows specifically depicting a school shooting include One Tree Hill (Season 3, Episode 16 [2006]) and Glee (Season 4, Episode 18 [2013]). The timing of other high profile school shootings, including Virginia Tech (Nista, 2007) and Sandy Hook (Ausiello, 2012; West, 2012), caused other shows to delay or cancel episodes that featured content similar to the tragedies out of respect for the victims and their families.

School shootings also have been featured throughout various Hollywood films. Some films are believed to specifically reference or be based upon the Columbine shooting. Among these include Gus Van Sant’s (2003) Elephant and Ben Cuccio’s (2003) Zero Day, each of which features details that parallel the attack. Michael Moore’s (2002) Bowling for Columbine was a popular documentary staged around the shooting that examined the issues of gun violence in the United States, with the shooting being just one of several key cases the film explored. Other movies that feature school shootings or related plots include Bang Bang You’re Dead (2002), Home Room (2003), Beautiful Boy (2010), and The Dirties (2013).

Finally, songs by top artists across various genres also have featured lyrics about school shootings. Harry Chapin Carpenter’s 1972 hit, “Sniper,” was reportedly written about the 1966 shooting at the University of Texas. Columbine was the subject of songs by Eminem (“I’m Back” [2000]; “Rap God” [2013]), Ill Bill (“The Anatomy of a School Shooting” [2004]), and Flyleaf (“Cassie” [2005]). Other artists that reference school shootings more generally include songs by Pearl Jam (“Jeremy” [1991]), Alice Cooper (“Wicked Young Man” [2001]), and P.O.D. (“Youth of a Nation” [2001]). One song about school shootings has been considered among the most controversial. Debuting in 2011, Foster the People’s song “Pumped Up Kicks” quickly climbed the industry charts (Quan, 2012). Its chorus referencing kids running from the lyricist’s (or perpetrator’s) gun and fired bullets, however, caused the song to quickly be pulled from rotation after the Sandy Hook shooting (Quan, 2012). The song, which chronicles the preparation for and implementation of a school shooting, was inspired by mental illness issues among teenagers; another band member had a relative who was present at the Columbine shooting, which also may have played a part in their desire to address the highly important issue of rampage violence in schools (Quan, 2012).

Audience Perceptions of School Shootings

The reporting of events like school shootings by the news media, coupled with their presence in popular culture, have far-reaching effects beyond just ratings. In particular, research has shown that audience members’ perceptions often are shaped by the news media they consume. For upwards of 95% of the general public, in fact, the media serve as their primary source of information (Graber, 1980; Surette, 1992). This is especially true of school shootings, as most individuals never will be directly impacted by such an event (Schildkraut & Elsass, 2016).

Several studies have examined perceptions of members of the public about school shootings in their aftermath. Stretesky and Hogan (2001), for example, found that college students surveyed after the Columbine High School shooting expressed feeling less safe than those who participated in the research prior to the attack. Addington (2003) also found an effect from Columbine, such that students were more likely to be fearful at school after the attack than before. Similarly, Brener, Simon, Anderson, Barrios, and Small (2002) found that respondents in their study were more likely to avoid school out of fear after the shooting. Other attacks similarly have incited fear of crime among the public. Kaminski, Koons-Witt, Thompson, and Weiss (2010) found that the Virginia Tech shooting, as well as the attack at Northern Illinois University 10 months later, also increased fear among college students. Each of these studies, however, failed to include a direct measure of media consumption that potentially could account for these perceptions.

In their study of the impact of the Virginia Tech shootings on college students, Fallahi, Austad, Fallon, and Leishman (2009) were one of the first to incorporate such a consideration. Specifically, they found that the more media students consumed, the greater the fear they expressed and the more likely they were to believe that a similar attack would happen again (Fallahi et al., 2009). Elsass, Schildkraut, and Stafford (2014) also expanded on this research by specifically exploring how media consumption across different sources would influence attitudes about school shootings as a major national problem. Their findings indicated that while traditional sources, such as television and newspaper formats, did not generate a significant difference, the use of social media did. In fact, the results indicated that the more individuals used Twitter in particular, the more likely they were to believe that school shootings were a major problem (Elsass et al., 2014). Given the increasing prevalence of social media as a “new media,” coupled with the fact that their study relied on a sample of college students, a group that usually gravitates away from more traditional news sources, these findings are not unexpected.

One possible unintended consequence of the media coverage of school shootings is the potential for copycat attacks. Within the first four weeks after Columbine, for example, more than 350 students had been arrested for making threats to carry out a similar attack (Kostinsky, Bixler, & Kettl, 2001). Following the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, threats were made at schools across the nation (Campus Safety Staff, 2007; Stuart & Owens, 2007), including one man who threatened to kill at least 50 students at San Diego State University (Hoffman, 2007). The desire to eclipse the massacre’s death toll was further heightened by the release of the shooter’s multimedia manifesto on NBC News, which then was rebroadcast by stations around the world (Berkes, Hagerty, & Ludden, 2007). Nearly 200 threats were made following a pair of school shootings in Finland as well (Lindberg, Sailas, & Kaltiala-Heino, 2012). Kellner (2013) further argued that the Sandy Hook shooting was both a catalyst for future would-be shooters as well as a copycat incident of the earlier Columbine attack.

Much of the speculation pertaining to a potential “contagion effect” of school shootings has been purported by the media and respective claims makers. Recently, however, researchers have begun to test whether such an effect in fact exists through empirical analysis. Towers, Gomez-Lievano, Khan, Mubayi, and Castillo-Chavez (2015), for example, found that school shootings in particular are contagious—that is, details about the events may give way to individuals with shared ideations as the perpetrators to commit similar attacks—for approximately 13 days after an event. Garcia-Bernardo and colleagues (2015) also considered a possible contagion effect of school shootings as it related to social media. Specifically, the researchers found that the probability of a school shooting occurring increases as the number of tweets referencing the phenomenon also increases (Garcia-Bernardo et al., 2015). It is important to note, however, that both studies purport a correlation between media coverage and school shootings; in neither case can the subsequent shootings be said to have been directly caused by this coverage. Despite the absence of causality, however, these studies, like many others, show the important and broad-reaching implications of the media coverage of school shootings.

Primary Sources

The body of research on school shootings and the media is narrow yet features a breadth of information and perspectives. For studies examining the relationship between media framing and school shootings, a staple piece is Chyi and McCombs’s (2004) article, which focused on the coverage of Columbine. This piece serves as the basis for later works, including Muschert and Carr’s (2006) work comparing framing patterns for the Columbine coverage and eight other attacks. Schildkraut (2012) utilized the measurement scheme laid out in Chyi and McCombs’s (2004) article to examine the coverage of Virginia Tech; later, Schildkraut and Muschert (2014) compared the framing patterns of the coverage of the Columbine and Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Muschert (2009) also analyzed frame changing to explore how Columbine became a cause for national concern.

Other key journal articles examining the media and school shootings include Maguire and colleagues’ (2002) study examining the network news coverage of 14 school shootings. Similarly, Leavy and Maloney (2009) compared the newspaper coverage of Columbine and the 2005 shooting at Red Lake High School in Minnesota. Lawrence and Mueller (2003) compared the media coverage of school shootings to official statistics on juvenile crime in order to understand the disparity between the two. Kupchik and Bracy (2009) performed a similar analysis, choosing to examine specific characteristics of news reports and how they may influence potential readers. Ogle, Eckman, and Leslie (2003) specifically focused on understanding the creation of Columbine as a social problem by claims makers (see also Schildkraut, 2016).

For a compilation of journal articles examining media-related issues and their application to school shootings, one should consider the two-issue special edition of the American Behavioral Scientist marking Columbine’s tenth anniversary, edited by Glenn W. Muschert and J. William Spencer (2009a, 2009b). Altheide (2009), for example, considers how the meaning of the shooting helped to fuel a national discourse on fear of violence. Frymer (2009) explored how the media coverage created the misperception that individuals with shared traits of the shooters also were a potential threat. More broadly, Birkland and Lawrence (2009) considered how the shooting impacted public opinion and related policy. Beyond American Behavioral Scientist, peer-reviewed articles examining the complex relationship between school shootings and the media can be found in other publications, including Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly; Crime, Law and Social Change; Sociology Compass; Crime, Media, Culture; Media, Culture & Society; and Feminist Media Studies.

One edited volume focusing exclusively on the issue of mass media and school shootings is Glenn W. Muschert and Johanna Sumiala’s (2012) School Shootings: Mediatized Violence in a Global Age, which, in three sections, examines media framing of school shootings, practical aspects of how journalists cover such events, and the media effects on both the witnesses and consumers of school-shooting-related media. Several other books focusing on the broader issues of school and mass shootings feature chapters or readings specifically examining these events’ portrayals in the media. Combined with providing background on the attacks and broader consideration of related issues, these works should be considered a starting point for scholars interested in this body of research. One such work is Douglas Kellner’s (2008) Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre, which provides a critical analysis about school violence and media spectacle. Another important book is There is a Gunman on Campus: Tragedy and Terror at Virginia Tech, edited by Ben Agger and Timothy Luke (2008). Bridging works from multiple authors, this volume includes chapters examining how the 2007 shooting was covered by the media. Several other books on school shootings, including Ralph Larkin’s Comprehending Columbine (2007), Dave Cullen’s Columbine (2009), and Matthew Lysiak’s Newtown: An American Tragedy (2013), provide in-depth reviews of these shootings and their aftermaths from the perspective of journalists working the stories.

Further Reading

  • Birkland, T. A., & Lawrence, R. G. (2009). Media framing and policy change after Columbine. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(10), 1,405–1,425.
  • Burns, R., & Crawford, C. (1999). School shootings, the media, and public fear: Ingredients for a moral panic. Crime, Law & Social Change, 32(2), 147–168.
  • Chyi, H. I., & McCombs, M. E. (2004). Media salience and the process of framing: Coverage of the Columbine school shootings. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 81(1), 22–35.
  • Frymer, B. (2009). The media spectacle of Columbine: Alienated youth as an object of fear. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(10), 1,387–1,404.
  • Larkin, R. W. (2007). Comprehending Columbine. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Maguire, B., Weatherby, G. A., & Mathers, R. A. (2002). Network news coverage of school shootings. The Social Science Journal, 39(3), 465–470.
  • Muschert, G. W. (2009). Frame-changing in the media coverage of a school shooting: The rise of Columbine as a national concern. The Social Science Journal, 46(1), 164–170.
  • Muschert, G. W., & Carr, D. (2006). Media salience and frame changing across events: Coverage of nine school shootings, 1997–2001. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 83(4), 747–766.
  • Muschert, G. W., & Sumiala, J. (Eds.). (2012). School shootings: Mediatized violence in a global age. Bingley, U.K.: Emerald Publishing Group, Ltd.
  • Ogle, J. P., Eckman, M., & Leslie, C. A. (2003). Appearance cues and the shootings at Columbine High: Construction of a social problem in the print media. Sociological Inquiry, 73(1), 1–27.
  • Schildkraut, J. (2012). Media and massacre: A comparative analysis of the reporting of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. Fast Capitalism, 9(1), 1–22. Retrieved from
  • Schildkraut, J., & Elsass, H. J. (2016). Mass shootings: Media, myths, and realities. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Books.
  • Schildkraut, J., & Muschert, G. W. (2014). Media salience and the framing of mass murder in schools: A comparison of the Columbine and Sandy Hook school massacres. Homicide Studies, 18(1), 23–43.


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