School shooting in Finland treated as breaking news in Denver

Nine people have reportedly died in a shooting at the Kauhajoki, Finland school seen here.

During their 5:30 a.m. news segment, channels 4 and 9 announced a "BREAKING NEWS" item -- but as it turned out, the news broke a long way from here. It involved reports of a school shooting in Kauhajoki, Finland, a community 180 miles northwest of Helsinki, that left nine people dead.

Should this incident have warranted the treatment it got in Denver? Well, these days, TV news programs frequently trot out their breaking-news graphics for events that take place nationally or internationally -- but usually only when there's a gripping live shot of a fire, an ongoing hostage standoff or the like. In this case, however, no video was available -- just the still photo of the school, seen above. Yet every local viewer undoubtedly understood why the broadcasters jumped on the story so quickly: the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. And indeed, there's a potential Columbine link to the Finnish tragedy, albeit a minor one.

The connection? Media outlets in Finland have associated YouTube clips of a man firing a gun with the killings -- and the user listed footage from Columbine among his favorite videos.

Of course, even if this factoid hadn't surfaced in early reports, the stations would have made the leap themselves. That's the way it's been for nearly a decade. Even though far too many school shootings have happened since then, including the Virginia Tech assaults of a couple years back that yielded an even more horrific body count, "Columbine" remains the first word that comes to mind whenever a school shooting takes place -- especially in these parts.

Outlets from elsewhere kept the attack in perspective. During National Public Radio's 6 a.m. news update, for instance, the Kauhajoki report was the very last item in the segment. On Denver TV, however, it moved right to the top of the charts. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts