Media swarms shooting story

Nets, cablers go wall-to-wall with coverage of tragedy's aftermath

TV journos and other news media are descending on the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo., today as myriad outlets mount saturation coverage of the mass shooting during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Within hours of the rampage that left 12 dead and more than 50 wounded, the Big Three network nightly newscasts announced plans to anchor Friday’s broadcasts from Aurora as well as primetime specials on the tragedy. CNN, Fox News and MSNBC went with wall-to-wall with coverage Friday morning as details emerged about the suspected shooter, 24-year-old James Holmes, and dramatic accounts of the attack Holmes is accused to staging, complete with smoke bombs devices in the theater.

In a PR nightmare for Warner Bros., media coverage seized on the “Dark Knight” connection to the shooting spree, with ABC News even branding their coverage “Tragedy in Colorado: The Batman Massacre” early Friday, though later in the morning the graphic shifted to “Tragedy in Colorado: The Movie Theater Massacre.” Witnesses and others who were at the mall-based multiplex at the time of the shooting were quick to pop up on TV to tell their stories.

As always, when media descends on a fast-moving story there’s plenty of potential for on-air gaffes as anchors and reporters search in real time for new angles and tidbits.

ABC News issued a mea culpa Friday after reporter Brian Ross suggested that the suspected shooter was tied to a Colorado branch of the Tea Party, based on an Internet search of the name Jim Holmes.

After determining that the Tea Party member was a different Jim Holmes, Ross corrected his report on-air and ABC News posted a statement on its website. “ABC News and Brian Ross apologize for the mistake, and for disseminating that information before it was properly vetted.”

In the effort to fill time, news outlets veered into rampant speculation on everything from how the shooting would affect the B.O. for “TDKR” to whether consumers would be shun moviegoing, even in the short term, out of safety concerns. The focus on the perceived vulnerability of security in movie theaters could not come at worse time for the biz as it hits the halfway point of the summer moviegoing season.

Media coverage also gave a lot of attention to one of the victims who was an aspiring sports reporter, Jessica Ghawi, who had recently been an intern at the Fox TV affiliate in Denver, using the on-air name Jessica Redfield. Ghawi’s story offered the chilling detail that she had just last month narrowly escaped a shooting incident at a Toronto shopping mall and posted about her near-miss on her blog.

Undoubtedly, the major news outlets and websites will see a massive traffic spike on Friday and possibility through the weekend as the latest mass shooting reverberates in pop culture, aided by its “Dark Knight” connection, politics and biz circles. The Colorado shooting marks the first mega breaking news event to erupt in the four days since NBC News unveiled its NBCNews.com site after its split with Microsoft in the MSNBC.com partnership.

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