While some panelists said reporters should respect people’s grief, others noted that showing compassion and having reporting access aren’t mutually exclusive. Courant journalist Matthew Kauffman (another friend) said that he was recently asked if all those journalists really needed to be in Newtown in the aftermath of the shootings. “I imagined the scene at the firehouse immediately afterward, with these terrified parents,” Kauffman said. “All of that must have been scary and traumatic. But nobody would say, ‘Do we really need that many cops on the scene there? Could you put the helicopters away?’” He continued, “I make sort of a modest proposal that in a tragedy like this, the media has a role to play as well … Journalists, to some extent, should be seen as first responders as well.”
And like local cops and firefighters, who respond to incidents on Day One and then remain connected because they live and work there, local reporters get the opportunity to write the meaty stories after the mainstream media pack scurries after the next siren. The Courant ran a profile series on victim families, like this one Kauffman wrote about the Bardens, who created a Facebook page that encourages people to spread the joy they found within their son, Daniel. (The New Yorker also wrote a deep dive on the role of the local paper, the Newtown Bee.)
Beyond treatment of grieving families and traumatic events’ aftermath, the press has the power to shape discussion in broader ways, panelists said. Kauffman said that journalists must learn the complexities of the post-Newtown gun control debate to cover it well. “I think it’s more divisive than abortion. I think it’s more divisive than equality for gays and lesbians,” he said. Psychiatrist Charles Herrick suggested that reporters should tread carefully when mentioning mental illness or developmental disorders, because having a diagnosis—shooter Adam Lanza reportedly had Asperger’s Syndrome—is not a red flag for committing violence. “It’s impossible [for clinicians] to be able to predict these things,” he said. And Llodra said that she sees the press as holding the ability to help Newtown heal.
“You hold our future a little bit in your hands, so please treat us gently,” she said. “Treat us with care.”