Zolan Kanno-Youngs shares his experience reporting on the Boston Bombing as friend of bombing suspect

Emily Zhen, Managing Editor, Opinions Columnist

To follow up with the February features story about the desensitization to violence, Managing Editor Emily Zhen recently interviewed Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Boston Globe correspondent and a friend of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, one of the suspects behind the Boston Marathon Bombing. Zolan considered Dzokhar, known by his friends as ‘Jahar’, one of his closer friends in high school. As a reporter, a source and a friend, Zolan knew that it was his responsibility to share his experiences with Jahar and tell his version of the story. In this interview, he shares his unique perspective covering the Boston Bombing as a journalist who knew the suspect. 

1. What do you think about the media’s portrayal of acts of violence? What did you think of how the media covered the Boston Bombing? 

It’s hard to say how the media covered the Boston Bombing given that there were so many different mediums and it was “play-by-play” news. By that, I mean that the media was covering it every minute since the bombs went off, informing the public at all times, even if there were no new developments. Given that there were no new developments for hours at a time, the media had a tendency to move towards common assumptions, which is a huge negative of journalism. An example could be when the said Jahar had to be anti-social new immigrant to the United States, which was false.

2. Do you think sometimes the media can focus too much on the gory details of the tragedy rather than the lives lot? How so? 

There are, of course, media outlets that tend to focus on the gory details instead of the lives lost. The fact is, gore sells. People are angry during a tragedy and that fuels their anger. However, in terms of the Boston Bombing, there are also examples where the goriest images have the most effect and the deepest meaning. For an example, John Tlumacki’s photos of the bombing were both the best and some of the goriest. By seeing the pain in a visual way, people were able to feel (in a way) the impact of pain and loss victim’s families had experienced.

 3. How did it feel to be a journalist covering the Boston Bombing while having a personal connection to the event? What went through your head?

I had information that the public didn’t have and as a journalist it was both the ethical and right decision to inform the public on that information. As far as emotion, there was pain, stress, sadness but never regret for going into the public eye. I feel that was the right thing to do. I only felt regret for Jahar’s actions and everyone he had hurt.

4. There have been at least 44 school shootings since Newtown in 2012. What do you think could have caused this spike in mass shootings? 

It’s hard for me to answer this given I’m not an expert of violence or the mental perspective behind crime. However, I would say it’s a mix of both society factors that go into WHY people get crazy enough to commit these crimes as well as why they have such easy access to weapons.

5. Have we, as a society, become numb or desensitized to violence? Is violence losing its shock value since it has become so commonplace? 

Not at all. In fact, the public is still so sensitive to violence that we tend to turn our head on it, simply labeling it a violent crazy act, rather than look deeper into the factors that shaped the criminal. It’s a lack of awareness and understanding when it comes to violence.

6. As a reporter, what do you think is the best way to cover breaking news tragedies? What are your goals or what do you keep in mind?

I think the best way is to refrain from this play-by-play news. Yes, the public will criticize if your outlet is not the first to get the news, but outlets care about this to the point where they report flatly wrong information. The best way is to refer to expert anecdotes while waiting for new developments and go to sources no one else is going for. My goals are establishing myself as a fair and well-known news reporter. I hope to excel in both T.V. and radio but specifically in print. I’m interested in foreign affairs news, as well as feature writing and hope to be an example to reporters when it comes to in-depth human-interest stories.