Media Restraint on Newtown Anniversary?

By Mark Walsh — December 12, 2013 3 min read
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As the nation approaches the anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., there are signs that the news media is showing some uncharacteristic self-restraint in response to pleas from the community.

Saturday marks one year since the massacre, in which 20-year-old Adam Lanza entered the school and killed 26 people, including 20 children. (He had earlier killed his mother, and he killed himself, too.) In addition to the standard anniversary peg, there has been genuine news about the event’s aftermath in recent weeks, including the Nov. 25 report of the Danbury state’s attorney on the tragedy and the Dec. 4 court-ordered release of 911 tapes.

As the Associated Press reported this week, “family members of the 26 people who died last year at Sandy Hook ... came together Monday to plead with the news media to let them mark Saturday’s one-year anniversary in peace. ‘We are trying to respect the world’s interest in us, but we also have a real need in our community to gain a foothold,’ Pat Llodra said, Newtown’s top elected official, said at a news conference with the families.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday that “in an unusual outbreak of journalistic restraint, much of the national media will not report from Newtown, Conn.,” on Saturday, “respecting the wishes of the victims’ families and town officials.”

According to the Post, such major outlets as CNN, Fox News, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, PBS NewsHour, The New York Times, USA Today, and the Post itself “all said they do not intend to send journalists” to the community.

It probably helps matters that no big public ceremonies or services are being planned. And the Associated Press said it would be in Newtown for on-scene coverage, the Post said.

Of course, just because news organizations may stay out of Newtown doesn’t mean there haven’t been a slew of anniversary stories, with more coverage to come through the weekend.

In Thursday’s Stamford Advocate and its related Connecticut papers, a Page 1 essay by novelist and Newtown resident Rachel Basch wondered “if the collective experience of shock and horror eventually must give way to a grief that is singular and solitary.”

USA Today interviewed several residents and survivors of the tragedy for its anniversary story Thursday, saying “there’s a desire among locals for Newtown to return to some sort of normalcy and again become the town known for a giant, middle-of-the-road flagpole that bottles up traffic every day and $2 movies at historic Edmond Town Hall rather than the site of horrific carnage.”

In Education Week, Evie Blad this week reports that, “A year after the shooting, the flurry of passionate calls for ‘national conversations’ and changes to state and federal laws related to guns, school security, and mental health that were spurred by the tragedy has yet to produce a sea change in policy.”

“While an undetermined number of districts across the country responded to the violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School by beefing up safety measures or adding armed security staff, only a fraction of the state and federal legislative changes proposed in the immediate aftermath of the killings have become law,” Blad adds.

Anderson Cooper of CNN spoke to some of the parents who lost children in the tragedy.

One of the more thoughtful treatments of the approaching anniversary appeared last month in New York magazine, where Lisa Miller wrote in “Orders of Grief” that “the residents of Sandy Hook were both overwhelmed by the world’s attention and infuriated by it. Shrines, news trucks, and tour buses filled with well-wishers clogged the town’s arteries so much the place became virtually unrecognizable.”

For the record, there were a couple of interesting things farther back about media coverage of the Newtown tragedy. One was this New Yorker piece (subscription required) about coverage by the local Newtown Bee. The second is this symposium on “Sandy Hook and Beyond” last April by the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma at Columbia University. The Web site includes videos of some of the panel discussions by news media members, first responders, and others.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.