As a journalist, it’s hard not to feel like a vulture heading into Newtown, Connecticut. In the town where a mass shooting at a local elementary school claimed the lives of 20 children, six adults and a lone gunman, people today were still trying to cope with the horrific tragedy amid a media circus. While people mourned at memorials and Connecticut state crime scene vehicles were still driving down main streets, news teams from all across the world jostled to find the best camera angles for their stories. At one memorial, a woman who wept on her knees was immediately surrounded by several different TV cameras and was prodded for an interview. In such a high-profile and emotionally charged scenario, the lines between ethical journalism and tasteless reporting were blurred. “Let them have their privacy, let them have their time, you know?” said Dr. Eric Chanko, a Sandy Hook father who’s daughter recently graduated from Sandy Hook Elementary School. “We understand there has to be a [media] presence, but as long as you leave those [affected] people alone we can deal with it.” Dr. Chanko described a scene he witnessed yesterday in which he saw two men filming outside of a house where a state trooper was parked in the driveway. “We know that when there’s a state trooper in the driveway that means somebody lost someone.” Dr. Chanko felt that the two men filming were “wildly inappropriate.” “We asked them to leave and they wouldn’t. And then we turned around and asked the state trooper to do something and the state trooper said ‘unfortunately I can’t because they’re not on their property.’”
Other people declared similar feelings of intrusion throughout the day. One woman exclaimed, “I can’t stand all of these cameras in my face” as she walked towards a memorial a block from the school. Children who were trying to place candles and teddy bears at memorial trees right down the street from the school were visibly irritated by the cameras that snapped as they tried to pay respects. Some of them stopped until the shutters subsided. Closer to the school, police were asking people with cameras if they were press. If they were, they were asked to stand back from the memorial so that people could mourn in peace.
The major news outlets haven’t exactly covered this event with the utmost accuracy either. Several outlets initially botched the name of the shooter and published the wrong photo, made presumptuous claims about (the real shooter) Adam Lanza’s mental health, and reported that Nancy Lanza, Adam’s mother, was a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which was also inaccurate.
Despite all of this, not everyone in the area felt that the heavy news presence was stunting the healing process for the people of Newtown. Mike Ganino of neighboring Monroe explained that the media presence was actually good for people trying to cope with the tragedy. “A lot of people feel very in need of someone to talk to right now and I think it’s holding everyone together,” he said. “I haven’t seen anyone cross the line. I think that the sense that people care is bringing everyone together.” Ganino, who will have children of Sandy Hook attending the elementary school in his town, said that he considers interviewing children as crossing the line. “I don’t really think that that’s appropriate because children of almost any age they may think they have it together but they don’t understand.” At least one news team was interviewing a child at the memorial closest to the school.
Though journalists can often be ruthless in their task to make stories, their underlying purpose cannot be denied. “If this tragedy spreads the word that this country has to do something about gun control then I’m all for the media being here, because this, to me, better be the tipping point that things have to change,” admitted one woman who asked not to be named. Her point reveals the heart of an ongoing issue between news coverage and discretion: the media may be intrusive and show lack of respect, but those images are often what can push the public to demand change.
(Photos: Joseph Schulhoff//ANIMALNewYork)