Newtown school shooting forever changed the media
During the Sandy Hook School shooting I was one of hundreds, if not thousands of journalists, who descended on the small community that never wanted to be in the glare of the national media.
Everyone was there, The Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, FOX News, and the list goes on and on. So many journalists, who spent time there covering the tragedy wrote about how the experience affected them.
To so many people the media didn’t belong there. They were seen as an intrusion. How dare they converge on a community that was mourning? There was outrage from the onset that the media would dare interview pupils who went to the school.
The outrage intensified as the media set down roots in the community and covered the wakes and funerals of 20 children and six adults who were killed by a lone gunman on Dec. 14. I totally understand that sentiment, and even agree with a lot of it.
As someone who was stationed in a hotel for 8 days helping to coordinate coverage for the New Haven Register that very question weighed on me immensely. I still don’t have a good answer.
What I do know is I cringed at the idea of ever detailing my experiences in Newtown because I in no way wanted to make this tragedy about me or my colleagues.
But as time has gone bye and the holiday season is drawing to end I felt it was appropriate to describe the lasting effects the Newtown tragedy had on the people who covered it.
Journalists contrary to many people’s beliefs are human beings, and like most people we have bosses who decide what we are to do, and it’s our responsibility to carry out their wishes.
My boss asked me on the day following the tragedy to coordinate coverage from a Southbury hotel, which was about 15 minutes from Newtown. I agreed because it was my job.
I never made it to Newtown. All I did was stay in the hotel coordinating coverage. My job was easy.
I didn’t have to go into the community or deal with the emotions of a people who were hurting and angered by the media’s non-stop presence.
Our company, which is called Digital First Media, brought in reporters, photographers and videographers from all over the country. At one point we had more than 50 staffers on the ground in Newtown covering this story.
Most of the staff was in their early 20’s and were just getting their careers started. I can say unequivocally that every staffer who went into Newtown to cover the story came away deeply affected by the tragedy.
No they didn’t know anyone personally who died that day, but reporter after reporter would come back from an assignment in tears.
One reporter, who comes to mind, kept volunteering to cover more stories despite breaking down and crying repeatedly, because they didn’t want others to suffer the same fate.
I will always recall two young reporters who helped me with dictation from others in the field and how after seemingly every phone call they would have to leave the room in tears.
One reporter had an experience that I know forever traumatized him. I doubt he will ever be able to speak about it outside the presence of other journalists.
Night after night we’d meet back at the hotel late into the night and often into the early morning hours. The discussions always focused on the mixed emotions the reporters felt, and how many of them struggled to cope with the never ending grief. We became a support group of sorts for one another.
None of this is meant as a justification to how we covered this unspeakable tragedy. But I thought it’s important to share that the people on the front lines, who reported on this story, are some of the finest and most caring human beings I have ever worked with.
We may not have agreed on why we were there, or all the things we reported on, but we tried our best to be considerate to a community that will likely forever be in mourning.
I know our hearts were also broken during this time. And we live with the burden of not knowing whether we added to the heartache Newtown residents’ felt by our very presence there.
We can only pray that people will come to their senses and these types of cowardice acts won’t happen in the future. That is my sole resolution for 2013.