The Schneerson Center, a synagogue serving mainly Russian-speaking Jews in San Francisco, was the site of an incident in which a man fired several blanks from a gun. (Photo/Google Maps)
The Schneerson Center, a synagogue serving mainly Russian-speaking Jews in San Francisco, was the site of an incident in which a man fired several blanks from a gun. (Photo/Google Maps)

Why we took the shooting video down

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Yesterday, Feb. 2, we reported on an incident at a Jewish center in San Francisco, in which a man entered a study session and fired several blanks from a gun. As part of that reporting, we shared a video taken from the security cameras. Two hours later, we decided to take that video down. We want to explain why.

Our responsibility as journalists is to gather facts from multiple sources and report stories as clearly, accurately and transparently as possible. That is especially true for breaking news — things that are happening now, with quickly moving events. We take our responsibility very seriously.

Yesterday, when we obtained the video of the shooting, we thought the visual impact furthered our reporting. It showed exactly what had happened; really, what could happen. Our reporter spent several hours talking with people who were at the scene of the shooting, and contacted police to ensure we had all of the available facts.

The story we published described the video, but we felt that the video had its own story to tell.

So why did we take it down?

The short answer is that we became convinced that media of this type can lead to unintended consequences. We received calls from experts worried that the video would embolden copycats. We did our own research and found evidence, such as an NIH report, that videos of shootings seem to lead to more shootings, known as the “contagion effect.”

As journalists, our job can be complicated. We are trained to make tough decisions every day, but the matter is not always clearcut. Once in a while, reporting the facts is not enough. We have to go deeper. As the American Press Institute puts it so well:

“The purpose of journalism is thus to provide [people] with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments.

We took the video down because we worried about copycats. We worried about the safety of our community. We worried the video could be manipulated or used for nefarious purposes. We worried that ultimately, keeping the video up could do more harm than good. 

But we also took the video down in the name of good journalism. 

Other news organizations made a different choice. Of course, if we had kept the video up, we would have had a “viral moment.” If our primary purpose was to get clicks, we might have made that choice, too. But that is not J.’s purpose. We are a nonprofit with a mission to connect, inform and strengthen the Jewish community. It guides everything we do.

We look forward to hearing from you and, as always, we appreciate your support.

Sue Barnett

Sue Barnett is managing editor of J. She can be reached at [email protected].

Jo Ellen Green Kaiser
Jo Ellen Green Kaiser

Jo Ellen Green Kaiser is the CEO of J. The Jewish News of Northern California.