December 13, 2013

Media exercising unusual restraint in Newtown coverage

Residents and relatives of the 26 victims have asked to be left alone on the anniversary of the shooting.

By Paul Farhi
The Washington Post

In an unusual outbreak of journalistic restraint, much of the national media will not report from Newtown, Conn., on Saturday, the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, respecting the wishes of the victims’ families and town officials.

Newtown residents and relatives of the 26 children and school employees killed in the massacre have asked to be left alone to grieve on the anniversary, and most major media outlets say they will comply.

A massive influx of journalists, particularly those lugging TV cameras and equipment, is rarely welcome anywhere. But few journalists can remember when a semiofficial request for the media to stay away has been heeded, as it apparently will be in Newtown on Saturday.

“I don’t remember it happening in Aurora,” the Denver suburb where 12 died and 70 were injured in a movie theater shooting last year, said Margaret Low Smith, senior vice president for news at NPR. “And I don’t remember it in Littleton,” after the shootings at Columbine High in 1999. But, she added, “we’re all human beings, and we get it.”

Among others, CNN, Fox News, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, NPR, PBS NewsHour, The New York Times, USA Today and The Washington Post all said they do not intend to send journalists to Newtown a year after the mass shooting that sparked worldwide horror and renewed calls for federal gun control. Several Connecticut TV stations also said they did not intend to report from Newtown on Saturday.

“There’s no reason for us to be there,” said Coleen Marren, news director at WTIC-TV, the Fox affiliate in Hartford, which is 50 miles from the town. “In a situation like this, many of these decisions come down to good taste. One lesson I’ve learned is to take the high road.”

The Associated Press said it will have reporters in Newtown, and many media outlets are likely to rely on it for on-the-scene coverage. Several news organizations checked with the wire service Wednesday to make sure that AP would have reporters and photographers there on their behalf, a person at AP said.

The media’s general restraint appears to be related to criticism from Newtown residents about the saturation coverage of the massacre and its aftermath last year. In a news conference Monday, town officials and some families asked news organizations to keep their distance to reduce anxiety among residents, particularly children.

In a statement Monday, Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra asked the public and the media to allow Newtown residents “the time to be alone and quiet, with time for personal and communal reflection.”

Although most news organizations say they don’t want to upset Newtown residents with their presence, there’s a practical consideration, too: No public events are scheduled in the town Saturday to mark the anniversary. However, Newtown churches and other places of worship will have special services Saturday and will ring bells 26 times at 9:30 a.m. to honor each victim.

Many news organizations have already prepared stories in advance of the anniversary.

The Post will cover a memorial service at Washington National Cathedral on Thursday and will examine gun violence against children. CNN scheduled a one-hour special hosted by Anderson Cooper Wednesday night that features interviews with three Newtown families. PBS Newshour on Thursday will air an interview with two families of slain Newtown children and spotlight “the Sandy Hook Promise,” a community effort to prevent gun violence and to promote financial aid to the victims of it.

The stories implicitly suggest that Newtown’s residents have put themselves in the media spotlight, particularly when it helped them to promote federal gun-control legislation.

Several families of victims also organized a news conference Monday to promote a Web site, for the families that lost members.

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