How The Newtown Bee is covering Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting

Newtown Bee Associate Editor Shannon Hicks was at the newspaper’s offices about a mile and a quarter from Sandy Hook Elementary when she heard about a possible shooting at the school.

Hicks, a volunteer firefighter for the last three and a half years, heard the news through the police scanner, she said by phone Saturday night.

Hicks was one of the first people at the scene of the shooting, which left 20 children and seven adults dead, including the shooter. She was “behind the first dozen police officers,” said John Voket, also an associate editor at the paper, noting that the firehouse where Hicks is stationed shares a driveway with the school.

When Hicks got in the driveway, she started taking photographs immediately through the windshield of her car, with one hand on the steering wheel and one holding her camera, Voket said.

An early photo from the scene — which appeared ubiquitously during shooting coverage Friday morning and on Saturday’s front pages — might have been of the first cluster of evacuating students, he said.

“The police and school system have a protocol” for evacuating, said Voket. “Children get into a conga line, shoulder to shoulder, and the only person that’s allowed to keep their eyes open is the locomotive at the front of the line, usually an adult. And every other kid has to keep their eyes closed from the minute they were exiting the classroom to when they got about a couple hundred yards into the parking lot.” That protocol protected the students from seeing the scene inside the school. (Shannon Hicks/Newtown Bee)

The Associated Press contacted the paper and asked for the photo, which the member news organization was happy to provide, Voket said.

Hicks was aware the photo was on the front page of Saturday’s New York Times (her mother told her), but was unaware it was on the cover of many other newspapers across the U.S.

“I’m conflicted,” she said. “I don’t want people to be upset with me, and I do appreciate the journalists, especially, who have commented, saying ‘We’re just documenting the news.’ ”

“It’s harder when it’s in your hometown and these are children we’re gonna watch grow up, the ones who made it. I know people are gonna be upset, but at the same time I felt I was doing something important.”

By the time Hicks’ fire company got a dispatch about the shooting, she was already on the scene as a newspaper editor, she said.

Voket arrived on the scene about 20 minutes after Hicks, he said, and when he did, Hicks “passed the baton” to him editorially.

“I literally put on my firefighter gear,” she said. “I was there as a firefighter probably for not even more than 20 minutes before my editor said he wanted me back in the office to work with him to coordinate coverage from there.”

Hicks returned to The Bee, where she has been an associate editor for six years, while Voket remained at the scene.

“We operate a little differently because our job is to take care of the community so we were inside helping to comfort victims and trying to provide human support without necessarily making reporting the number one priority,” Voket said. “The publisher came down to comfort some of the families a little later in the day.”

R. Scudder Smith has been publisher of the weekly paper since 1973; he is the fourth member of his family to run The Bee since they founded it in 1877. The paper, which has a full-time editorial staff of eight, circulates to about two-thirds of the community of about 29,000, Voket said.

At the time of the shooting, the paper had already closed its latest weekly edition, the AP reported, including a front page report on how well Newtown schools were meeting state standards.

To distribute news about the shooting, The Bee relied on digital technology. “We’ve been putting everything on our website,” Smith told the AP.

Unfortunately, the website was not accustomed to the traffic surge and it crashed multiple times until the Bee acquired “an intermediary service to supersize our bandwidth,” Voket said. “We got back up and running this morning.”

Meanwhile, the staff used social media to spread information about school lockdowns, re-routed traffic, and grief counseling.

“Facebook and Twitter accounts have been a lifeline to our community,” said Voket, “and it shows because 20 percent of the community are following us.”

The Bee will not rely exclusively on social media to reach the community, though. They are “looking at doing a special extra to be on the newsstands Monday,” Voket said. This would be “one of the only times the paper has done a special extra” edition in its 135-year history.

Hicks is not sure what’s next for the staff after the special edition. Saturday night, Voket told her, “Pace yourself, because we don’t think we’re going to get much of a break,” she said. “It’s going to be days and nights of trying to stay current.”

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  • Shannon


  • Shannon

    Who took the picture?

  • Dave Jay

    This was a full scale drill with No real weapons fire and NO one Died Nobody at all. STOP THE LIES

  • Robin Bartlett

    you need for the children, to never stop getting to the bottom of this,until we know the truth,two many stories going around,tell us who was the other two men the police chased down,where is the video from the front of school,how could a hand gun have so many rounds,and what about the little girl who walked out of that classroom,said she was playing dead,did anyone go into the classroom,and check for heart beats,if they did,then they would of found this little girl,playing dead, many more stories,needs to be searched,so dont stop.

  • swansong19

    Good question.

  • Barb Denofa

    This is flying around the social media sites, a report from your paper stating that an interview took place with principal of the school.. how did that occur when she was killed?? Please clear this up as mis information is rampant and these poor people have more than enough grief .. TY

  • Dave Francis

    My son has Autism and has drawn a knife on his
    Mother several times. It’s very sad that the opponents of gun control dribble
    out of the woodwork, demanding new gun laws when there is a traumatic incident
    as the one in Massachusetts. However there are limits to what help you can
    receive from the medical profession as my family has found out. THERE IS LITTLE
    evident to the growing problem of Autism, which is reaching uncomfortable
    proportions? More money is needed for research relating to the Autism Spectrum
    Disorder, which thousands of families must deal with on a daily basis. There
    are no guns in my household and yet I do not blame gun owners, who possess them
    to protect their families from criminals who will circumvent any new gun laws.

  • Arthur Scott Reid

    As the sky darkens over my home tonight in Simi Valley , California I see twenty six new bright stars. I will know their names, and I will know how special they are to their families. Their angels
    are now my angels. I will say a special prayer for them.

  • Wallyboy

    Not her, but watching other reporters (hundreds) shoving microphones in the
    face of these young children made everyone I know sick to their stomachs.
    They don’t have the ability to say no to an adult. Just horrible and shame on them.

  • PodcastSteve

    Newtown Bee doing a great job for its community. But I wish we would take all the energy being put into “wear this color on Monday” and channel that into holding politicians’ feet to the fire over better oversight of the mentally ill and their access to weapons. That would be a much more productive tribute.

  • Jerry Hall

    This is a very important photo without which many around the world would not share in the pain of these children, their families and the affected adults – parents, teachers and first responders. Facts are far more impactful than imagination. Reporters must report. Tastefully and ethically of course. Thank you.

  • Shannon

    NEGATIVE. Sandy Hook Elementary School’s colors are green and white. (Blue and yellow or gold are the colors of the town’s high school). Please clarify that point anywhere you see it.

  • Guest

    Sandy Hook Elementary School colors are GREEN and WHITE – the original designation of blue and gold was wrong. Please wear green and white on Monday.

  • Amy Hans

    There is a post going around FB that suggests students across the U.S. should wear blue and yellow on Monday to show solidarity with the elementary school. Could anyone confirm if these are in fact Sandy Hook’s school colors??

  • Guest

    This makes me proud to be working at a weekly, community focused newspaper.

  • Jeff A. Taylor

    Have to point out that taking care of your community IS journalism. It is being as calm, caring, and rational as crazy circumstances permit. Reporting is not surveillance, it is tempered with compassion and as much wisdom and perspective as you can muster. In sum, it seems obvious to me that this paper rushed to the scene of a nightmare and boldly documented it because its motives were pure and its conscience clear.