Outside looking in provides perspective on school shooting reporting

For many years I was on the reporter’s side of collecting news. When the massacre at an elementary school occurred in my hometown of Sandy Hook, Conn., I no longer was a member of the press, but rather a resident watching reporters, videographers, radio press, international writers and Internet bloggers descend on a hamlet that has one stoplight.

As each hour passed and the horror of the story became more evident, the ranks of reporters swelled. A town previously known only to the local daily and a family-owned weekly now was on the map for reporters from around the world. National news, local reporters, swarms of journalists from New York, the writer for the local patch.com, a giggly Yale student hired as a stringer by a West Coast newspaper and the “Inside Edition” television show all were there. Each was jockeying for position.

Standing among the hundreds of reporters who clogged the street leading to my current place of employment, I heard rumors swirl like leaves in a gusty wind. For hours the only confirmed information was the death toll, but reporters were up against deadlines and live news feeds, and state police were releasing no information. The scene became a feeding frenzy, and reporters went with what they had. Most of it was unconfirmed and inaccurate, yet still reported. It became the ultimate game of “telephone.” It wasn’t until six hours later, when a press conference took place, that lines between truth and fiction no longer were blurred. Yet as the reporters moved on to the next phase of the story, I did not encounter one journalist who looked back and questioned how it was that nearly every lesson in Journalism 101 was violated.

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