Defending my former colleagues- December 17, 2012
How did you hear about Friday’s tragedy? Where were you when you heard? These days there’s a good chance you saw it on Twitter, or Facebook. Maybe you got a push notification on your phone? You probably discussed it with coworkers in disbelief. You probably kept checking CNN.com through the day. If you were home, I bet you turned on the TV. If you had a TV in your office or wherever you were, I bet you watched it. The online updates are one thing, but to watch it unfold live on camera is another.
As a former news person, I have been so angry reading comments on Facebook and Twitter. Everyone wants to blast the media for their coverage of the Newtown, CT shooting.
All the information we got was from the news media. It came fast, every gruesome, unthinkable fact. Every image you saw was from their cameras. I may have missed it, but I didn’t see any cell phone video of this disaster. Who would want to take a picture of that?! They are children!
I can promise you the news media didn’t want to take pictures of that either. They had to. It was their job. It’s the job of a TV news photographer and reporter to get facts and video as quickly as possible. Sometimes it comes so fast, facts get mixed up and wires get crossed. I wasn’t on this scene, but I used to be a reporter on the scene of terrible things. This was much worse than anything I ever saw in person, but I know the chaos. I understand the chaos that went on in every newsroom in America on Friday. In panic, stress and grief sometimes a well-meaning police spokesperson or hasty reporter might mix up something like the names of the suspect and his brother. Again, I wasn’t there so I don’t know all the circumstances, but let me assure you law enforcement and that reporter REALLY want to get the facts right and will quickly correct themselves. They could be fired for not doing so.
Let me be clear that I believe NOTHING a news person endured that day was anywhere near the traumatic experience of the victims and their families. I would never imply that, but like first responders, clergy and educators, news people have had a lousy, stressful few days too.
In chaos and urgency to get information, they may interview a child or a crying teacher. They have to. They have to tell the story. It was the children and teachers who were witness to the story unfolding. You can’t MAKE anyone give you an interview. No one made that brave, tearful teacher describe the terrifying moments she spent comforting a class of elementary kids. They interviewed a kid at the scene. It appeared to me that the child was with a parent. I’ve read the criticism of the media, saying they should not interview kids after a tragedy. If you don’t want your kid interviewed, don’t let them be interviewed. It is the journalist’s job to ask for an interview. It is the parent’s job to grant or deny that permission. It is up to the parent to determine what the child can handle. If the child is further traumatized after being interviewed, that blame lies with the parent, not the reporter.
I don’t know if I would have let my child be interviewed. I suppose I would have to follow my gut after assessing her emotions in that moment. Let me assure you reporters and photographers in Newtown were also thinking of their children. Like the police officers, EMT’s, clergy, medical examiners and all the other people working on the scene, they probably longed to run home to their little ones too. I even saw a rare glimpse of a reporter getting emotional during her live shot.
I know this is hard right now. I know everyone is grieving. The news media is an easy scapegoat because they are in your face and on all the time. Let me promise you that people in the news media are not all ratings-hungry animals. Everyday they are forced to walk the fine line between journalism and sensationalism. Sometimes it’s a small space between story telling and exploitation.
I’m talking about news people here. The people reporting the news, not the pundits sounding off about restricting gun rights, or vehemently defending the 2nd Amendment. I’m not even going there. I’m talking about the journalists doing their job.
The coverage I saw was done with respect and dignity. The news media I saw corrected misinformation quickly and scrambled to get facts to the public as soon as possible. After that, they got reaction and followed up on the story in the best way they knew how. They limited use of the suspect’s name and worked to pay tribute to the victims. Let me tell you, it SUCKS to stand outside the funeral of a child. All the video I saw was across the street, away from the mourners during the first few funerals today. I heard interviews with first responders and family members conclude with the interviewee thanking the reporter for doing this story justice.
I applaud the journalists I’ve seen covering this story this week. I know you want to pack up that live truck and race home to your own babies. I also know you understand that this story is bigger than you and your cold fingers and looming deadline. Good luck. Hang in there. Not all of America thinks you are evil. We know the real evil was in the actions that took the lives of the victims.
If you don’t want to hear about the story anymore, turn the TV off. Don’t criticize journalists for doing their work.