Media, residents yearn for journalists to leave Newtown

BBC | Denver Post | PBS | New England Newspaper & Press Association | NPR

Four days after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it's not just Newtown, Conn., residents griping about how members of the media are still camping out. Reporters are wondering what they're still doing there, too. Good point, but in some of these reports, it's hard to tell where genuine local irritation leaves off and media-person self-loathing begins. Especially when the reasons for not covering the story are as light on specifics as early reports from the scene.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond says he's "never seen anything like this, nor felt so uncomfortable about being part of it."

British outlets alone must have sent 100 people to this tiny place.

And the American networks and cable new channels must each have sent dozens of staff here, for their news bulletins and their programmes; CNN has rolled from Newtown pretty much non-stop since the massacre. On the networks, programme after programme has been anchored from the town. ...

But our footprint in tiny Sandy Hook is exceptionally heavy. And after a while, you have to wonder what more there is to say.

Adrienne LaFrance traverses the town talking to residents about how much they hate talking to reporters. Sources include "one local woman," "a man," "a group," "A shopper," "a first responder who didn't want to give his name" and "a trio of locals." Only one person, Teri Brunelli of the store "Everything Newtown," talked on the record:

"Please tell them to just ease up," Brunelli said. "It happened and we're going through it. Just let it be for right now."

Brunelli has previously been quoted in the New Haven Register and The Washington Post.

Hari Sreenivasan writes he's been "truly startled to see the force of pack journalism in Newtown (which by my presence in the Connecticut town, I admit to being a part of)." He finds the presence of so much international media remarkable and wonders what he's really adding:

Perhaps the captivation is because an attack on children is understood unequivocally as a universal atrocity across borders and cultures and religions. That all said, I wonder how each of these storytelling teams adds to this story, and ultimately affects this tiny town they have converged on to cover.

The Newtown Bee put out a call on Facebook "imploring ALL our colleagues and journalists to PLEASE STAY AWAY FROM THE VICTIMS."

In a letter to the New England Newspaper and Press Association, Bee Associate Editor John Voket says a "growing number of incidents have been occurring as I write this Monday morning involving reporters and media crews invading the yards and space of grieving survivors, school staff and responders."

There's also an opportunity for scam artists to enter the picture, Voket writes, noting that Newtown Savings Bank is distributing everything that comes in to its Sandy Hook School Support Fund to families in the area, including money for counseling services.

NPR's David Folkenflik looks at the fuzzy reporting that marked the news media's early hours of covering the shooting and notes that "even in the pre-Internet age, journalists have also been badly mistaken." Now, BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith says, "the assemblage of the news is playing out in full view and in real time," as Folkenflik puts it.

"[In any major story] there's going to be a massive, fast conversation on social media, and on Twitter in particular, trying to figure out everything they can about anyone whose name has appeared," Smith said. "And the idea the professionals have nothing to do with that conversation strikes me as a bad idea."

When the media tells stories like Newtown's in such conditions, Folkenflik says, "the first draft of history isn't even a draft. It's just raw notes, waiting for rewrite."

Related: "Mistakes have always been made by the press because there are so many ways to get a story wrong and so few to get it right," Jack Shafer writes. (Reuters)

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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