Bob Davis: The true value of local media
Dec 23, 2012 | 3011 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
News about the Newtown shooting spread quickly across the world, prompting media outlets to set camp in the small town. Photo: Julio Cortez/The Associated Press
News about the Newtown shooting spread quickly across the world, prompting media outlets to set camp in the small town. Photo: Julio Cortez/The Associated Press
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By the middle of last week, the residents of Newtown, Conn., begged the news media covering the horrific elementary school shooting to go away.

“Please tell them to just ease up,” a Newtown shop owner told a reporter. “It happened and we’re going through it. Just let it be for right now.”

A customer in the woman’s shop turned to the reporter and added, “We need you to help us beg people to stop calling the victims. They’re in mourning. Someone actually pounded on a friend’s door and, literally, they were shouting, ‘Someone in this town has to start talking to us, this is our story.’ That’s how we’re being treated.”

No one would wish this sort of tragedy on his or her hometown. The deaths of 20 schoolchildren at the hands of a gun-wielding killer are almost too much to bear for those of us who hold no connection to the victims.

Undoubtedly, many Newtown residents had some connection to the dead children. If they didn’t know the children, they perhaps knew their parents, siblings, pastors, teachers or friends. The pain for anyone who calls Newtown home must feel like a crushing weight.

One BBC journalist, Jonny Dymond, put it aptly when discussing the news media: “[O]ur footprint in tiny Sandy Hook is exceptionally heavy. And after a while, you have to wonder what more there is to say.”

Watching TV news last week, I wondered the same thing. Why were so many TV news anchors in Newtown? We’d expect reporters to be on the ground reporting on events, but the anchors mostly read the news, not uncover it. They could have read their reports just as easily from a studio far from the site of the grieving, something most of them did after a few days.

Maybe it was just me, but it frequently seemed that TV news personalities were emoting as much as they were reporting. They were seeking to have an Oprah-like “moment” with viewers — as opposed to delivering the news. Not sure what’s worse — insensitively harassing residents of Newtown, or emotional posturing for the cameras.

My friend Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas, took to Facebook to offer some advice: “The 24-hour cable TV news monster strikes again. (My advice: Always avoid cable TV news channels. For a breaking story, go to the local newspaper and TV stations. They live in the community and must be responsible.)”

Yes.

The Newtown tragedy is a huge story, somehow made even larger than the other all-too-frequent mass shootings in the United States. This story can’t be ignored. It’s important. The families grieving their losses, the shooter and his background and the public-policy matters of guns and mental health deserve attention.

Our east Alabama community has had its share of tragedies. Though not on the scale of Newtown, they were equally upsetting to many members of the community. The Star has covered these stories, knowing that our obligation is to report the news no matter how painful it might be. However, we try to the best of our ability to report with sensitivity and fairness. We aren’t some TV news hotshot who just parachuted into town. We know this community because we are a part of this community. During times when this newspaper is covering a calamity, it’s often likely that one or more members of our staff are familiar with the families involved. It’s quite likely we, too, are grieving.

I liked how my friend Bud put it: “Local media are in it to build communities, not to twist emotions.”

Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or bdavis@annistonstar.com. Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.
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