Lulu Ramadan's recent assignments are pretty typical for a 23-year-old reporter in her first job at a community newspaper. This month, she has written for the Palm Beach Post about a car crash, a mayoral debate and a local Sea Turtle Day festival.
On Wednesday, Ramadan was sipping coffee at a Dunkin' Donuts, preparing to interview a Boca Raton city councilor about the opening of a new school, when her editor called with an alarming redirection: Hurry south to Parkland to cover a shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.
Ramadan's first response might have been disbelief. But it wasn't. Instead, she says, she got in her car and thought, “Oh, God. Again?”
Yes, again. This was not the first time a mass shooting had overtaken Ramadan's local beat — nor even the second time. Wednesday's tragedy in Parkland was the third of its kind that Ramadan has covered in her short career. She previously reported on the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, which left 49 people dead in 2016, and on a shooting last year at the Fort Lauderdale airport, where a gunman killed five and injured six others.
Ramadan is barely out of college, covering a small part of the country, yet reporting on mass shootings is already becoming almost routine. She remarked on this sad reality in a Wednesday-night tweet that was retweeted more than 4,000 times.
"'Routine' is maybe not even a strong enough way to put it,” Ramadan told me on Thursday, after she attended a news conference. “It just feels like history repeating itself. It's exactly the same sort of reaction and comments you get from witnesses, from victims, from families, from authorities every time.”
Other journalists also have commented on the grim repetition of mass-shooting coverage.
“I have covered probably 20 of these at this point,” MSNBC host Chris Hayes said on the air Wednesday. He added that “there's a kind of learned helplessness. You feel like you're sitting in a car in neutral and gunning the engine as you watch this transpire.”
On Twitter, The Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham laid out the predictable, familiar progression of a mass-shooting story.
HuffPost's Nick Wing and Matt Ferner offered this appraisal of press coverage:
After a mass shooting, news stories often reduce victims to parts of a larger body count, the latest casualties of this particularly American form of gun violence. Just look at the headlines for the school shooting in Florida on Wednesday: “Mass Casualty Shooting At Florida School.”
Other coverage focuses exclusively on honoring slain individuals, a celebration of life that seeks to underscore the tragedy of a mass shooting.
Both types of stories can obscure and desensitize us to the disturbing violence. The autopsies, on the other hand, give an unsanitized truth to those stories.
Wing tweeted that he and Ferner had “spent the last week looking through the autopsies of victims of the Las Vegas shooting.” They published some of the gruesome details and suggested in their report that perhaps news coverage ought to be more graphic, to ward off complacency.
Ramadan told me that even she — theoretically too young to be jaded — had to make a conscious effort not to allow Wednesday's shooting, which claimed 17 lives, to feel normal.
“I definitely think there is a desensitization factor, not just with the reporters,” she said.
Last week, Ramadan covered a public forum in Delray Beach where police addressed local business and religious leaders. The topic: what to do in an active-shooter situation. Mass shootings, she wrote in her article, are “an all-too-common reality.”
Nine days later, Ramadan had to cover another one.