CNN’s New Guns Reporter Stephen Gutowski Wants to Deliver Coverage That ‘Informs Rather Than Inflames’
When CNN sought to assemble a new team to cover guns in America, they tapped Stephen Gutowski, a firearms reporter with more than a decade of experience on the beat. His hiring — Gutowski is one of several expert reporters and analysts on CNN’s new “Guns in America” team — was met with applause from journalists like myself who have long admired his deep expertise and clear-eyed analysis on the subject of guns, gun violence, and gun regulation in the country.
I spoke to Gutowski for this week’s episode of The Interview podcast about joining CNN, why passing new gun laws has proven so difficult in America, the influence of the NRA, and what the media gets wrong when it covers firearms.
“It’s not political bias, although that does certainly exist on this issue within the media,” Gutowski explained. “It’s more a lack of knowledge and a lack of concentration.”
Before CNN established their “Guns in America” team, gun beat reporters were a rare presence in major newsrooms. Gutowski covered the beat for conservative news outlets before founding his own, The Reload, which is dedicated to covering firearms, as are other niche outlets like The Trace. Few major media outlets have even one reporter dedicated to guns, with the exception of The Guardian, which previously hired Lois Beckett to cover gun policy.
“While The Guardian has a more left leaning approach editorially, I thought she did a lot of incredible work because of the fact that she was focused on that beat,” Gutowski said.
The problem with major media outlets is that they only cover guns when there’s a mass shooting or major gun legislation at the federal level, he continued. In such cases, those stories are given to general assignment reporters with little knowledge of the industry or the technology involved.
“And so you end up with a lot of very base level mistakes happening over and over and over again in media coverage, things like not knowing the difference between semi-automatic and fully automatic,” said Gutowski.
He hopes CNN’s effort to create a dedicated beat to cover guns will help solve those problems.
“The beat is CNN’s commitment to trying to cover this issue from a more a nuanced point of view that incorporates a lot of different worldviews into it,” he said, noting the team is also made up of CNN guns and security correspondent Josh Campbell, The Trace’s Jennifer Mascia, and The Guardian’s Abené Clayton.
“I think they’re looking for an approach that informs rather than inflames,” he said. “I know that’s something of a cliché, but I think that’s what they’re really looking for.”
I asked Gutowski whether the new direction at CNN (less opinion and bombast, more nuance and reporting) convinced him that the network is the kind of place where the reporting he wants to do on guns will thrive.
“That does encourage me,” he said. “And that is part of my my thought process on joining CNN in this role, because I think it would it would be great if that’s how the station ends up moving in a direction more centered on journalism and less on opinion takes. That’s my bias as a reporter.”
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