Media vow to remember Newtown tragedy in respectful manner

CNN
Saturday, December 14, 2013 - 11:00am

The nation's news media are sure to cover the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School extensively on Saturday.

But for the most part, these news organizations say they will acquiesce to the requests of local community members and not report from Newtown, Connecticut, the town where Adam Lanza killed 20 first-graders and six adults at the now-demolished school on December 14, 2012. The massacre was the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

CNN said in a statement that while it "plans to cover the one-year anniversary across our networks and platforms, we are respecting the wishes of the families, and we are not reporting from Newtown on Saturday."

Similarly, an NBC spokeswoman said in an e-mail that "NBC News is respecting the town's wishes and our broadcasts have no plans to be in Newtown for the anniversary." Other television networks issued almost identical statements when contacted.

Such decisions are exceptionally rare for news organizations and underline the tension between the necessity of covering tragedy and respecting the people who are being covered -- in this case, parents with dead children and their neighbors.

In the run-up to the anniversary, Newtown officials said they hoped the press would not descend on the small town, stirring debate about what reporters should and should not do.

"We are wishing fervently that those many persons who wish us well, and the media, will allow us this time to be alone and quiet with time for personal and communal reflection," said Pat Llodra, the town's first selectman, a role similar to that of mayor.

But the job of journalists is, at times, to document such reflection and share it with the public. The Associated Press said it will provide "respectful coverage" of the anniversary Saturday, "as we have since Day One of Newtown's tragedy."

"As a news cooperative, owned by some 1,400 daily newspapers across the country, and as a provider of news and information to hundreds of other customers worldwide, AP also recognizes its obligation to report on how Newtown is coming together to mourn and heal," a spokesman for the news organization said.

Many news organizations visited Newtown ahead of the anniversary to conduct reporting to televise and publish on Saturday. CBS News was among those, and the network signaled this week it would not have a camera crew in the town Saturday.

"We are sensitive to the families' concerns and will cover the anniversary in the least intrusive way possible," said Tim Gaughan, director of special events for CBS News.

Newspaper and online journalists are generally able to maintain low profiles on sensitive assignments, with notebooks and cell phones the only necessary tools of the trade. Television journalists, on the other hand, are more often accompanied by intrusive cameras, microphones and trucks.

Like the national networks, local television stations in Connecticut have said they will avoid using Newtown as a backdrop for live shots.

Kelly McBride, an editor of the book "The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century," wrote in a Poynter Institute blog post Friday that it "would be wrong to leave the anniversary itself unnoticed," but that such coverage can and should be done with sensitivity.

"We live in a media world of excess. With self-discipline, restraint and a sense of service to our audience -- rather than to our ratings or web metrics -- journalists should be able to provide meaningful stories a year after Newtown," McBride wrote. "And possibly such efforts can set the tone for future tragedies." 

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