July 8, 2020

Newtown has Mixed Feelings About the Media Horde in Its Midst

But he also knows that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School ranks with the national tragedies he has covered: Oklahoma City, Sept. 11, Virginia Tech. So for now the most intimate and heartbreaking of catastrophes and the insatiable, unwieldy beast of global news media are locked in an awkward union in a bucolic New England town that never expected to encounter either.

Mr. Blitzer, the longtime CNN anchor, said the few exhortations to go home he had heard while working here had been far outnumbered by comments from people who thank him for telling Newtown’s story sensitively and who want the world to know what happened here. Still, he said, Newtown is providing a particularly vivid laboratory of how the media report this kind of tragedy.

“If you have people bringing dolls or flowers to makeshift memorials and they’re crying, that’s a powerful image, it’s part of this story, it’s part of our history right now, and we have to deal with it,” he said on Sunday.

This town, of course, has been transformed by unimaginable tragedy. But in a more mundane and presumably transitory way, Newtown and particularly the small community of Sandy Hook have also been transformed by those coming to report on it, a news media presence that has clogged quiet roads, established glowing encampments of lights and cameras, and showed up in force at church services and public memorials.

Nearly every newscast on CNN since Friday night has been broadcast from Newtown. The same has been true for nearly every network television morning and evening newscast. Coverage of other events has been minimized if not scrapped entirely, at least for a few days — sometimes with breathlessly inaccurate results about the massacre. On Friday, there was a succession of reports about the shooting and the gunman that turned out to be wrong: reports about the gunman’s name, about his mother’s occupation, about how he got into the building.

The confusion continued into Saturday when NBC broadcast an exclusive report that the gunman had an altercation with four staff members at the school the day before the shootings, according to state and federal officials. A revised account played down the possibility of an altercation.

Reporters like NBC News’s justice correspondent, Pete Williams, tried to be transparent about the fact that many initial details about the shooting came from anonymous and occasionally contradictory sources.

When Adam Lanza’s brother Ryan’s name circulated widely as the gunman’s name on Friday afternoon, he said “we are being told the name Ryan,” but cautioned that “at the end of the day that name might be wrong.”

Despite the errors, Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, the nonprofit journalism organization, said he was “touched and impressed by the nonstop coverage so far.” He said he had not seen any children interviewed without a parent nearby.

Some news organizations said they had specific rules about such interviews. A spokeswoman for CBS News said that its policy “is not to interview children under the age of 18 before getting permission from a parent.”

While police officials have asked — at times almost begged — the news media to respect the privacy of families that have lost a loved one, reporters and bookers do have to ask. Thus the sight of big-name anchors going door to door this weekend, seeking interviews. They said they know when no means no.

“We are always extremely sensitive to the feelings and the wishes of loved ones,” said Tom Cibrowski, the executive producer of ABC’s “Good Morning America.” But, he added, “There is a time when some do choose to honor their child or the victim, and we can provide a forum.”

Most moving, perhaps, was the eloquent tribute that Robbie Parker paid Saturday in front of TV cameras to his dead 6-year-old daughter, Emilie Alice. Nonetheless, in Newtown, a police officer has been assigned to keep unwelcome visitors away at the homes of the families of each of the dead children.

Some here have had gripes about individual reporters pushing cameras and microphones into the faces of unwilling residents, particularly those leaving the firehouse in grief on Friday after receiving news about what happened at the school.

Still, Michael Burton, the second assistant chief at the firehouse, who said he witnessed some intrusive reporters, also said the coverage has been a blessing beyond sharing the town’s grief.

A fire department in Texas, learning of the Christmas tree sale at his firehouse, bought the two trees that became the center of a memorial at the bridge leading up to the school. Someone in North Carolina bought another 26, one for each of the slain children and school personnel, all now adorned in a green tribute leading up to the school.

“If not for the media coverage, none of that would have happened,” he said.

On Sunday morning, Eric Mueller, an art teacher at a private school in New Haven, began hammering 27 wooden angels that he and eight friends had constructed into the ground in front of his house in Newtown. Within minutes, he was joined by more than a dozen reporters and photographers. “My wife said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t talk to the press,’ ” he said.

He said his gesture was for the residents of Newtown, not for the world. But he said he had no problem with the news media descending on the town.

“I’m fine with it right now. I’ll go back in the house and be done with it and let the angels speak for themselves.”

Peter Applebome reported from Newtown, Conn., and Brian Stelter from New York.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/17/business/media/newtown-has-mixed-feelings-about-the-media-horde-in-its-midst.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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