I had a couple of profound experiences during presentations at this weekend’s newspaper conference. One of them came in a luncheon about covering mass shootings, particularly school shootings.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. At the front of the room two unlikely men sat together: John Voket, the associate editor of the Newtown Bee (the weekly newspaper in Newtown, Connecticut, that is the paper of record for the Sandy Hook school shootings) and Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance, the officer in charge of media information in the aftermath of the shooting.
Together these two men were a picture of heartbreak. They are clearly both haunted by what they heard, saw, and experienced in the days before Christmas.
Voket spoke about being a part of the community that he was covering. It was because people already knew him and trusted him as a person that he had an unparalleled level of access to the scene and the people involved.
Vance spoke about how upsetting it is to hear conspiracy theorists opining that the whole thing is a farce and never actually happened. He talked about the horror of walking amongst “the bodies of those babies” and how that sight will never, ever leave him.
They spoke about the need to be human first. In fact, it’s a message that I heard from multiple speakers throughout the weekend – that in order to be good journalists, we must engage in our own sense of humanity. One photographer said that he makes a snap judgement before taking each picture based on whether it’s something he’d want his child to see on the table at Sunday morning breakfast.
It was gratifying to hear so many people speaking about the need to be present in our daily routine (although, of course, none of them phrased it quite that way! ) Of course there will always be networks and other outlets that thrive on sensationalism. My own paper has some talented headline writers who have been known to craft a headline for sales value rather than strict accuracy. But as a whole, I think we do a pretty good job of being human while we present the news.
Unfortunately, these shootings are becoming more commonplace with every passing week. In fact, today as I got in my car to come home from work I heard that there was a courthouse shooting in Delaware with three people dead. It’s so commonplace that it’s not even on the Yahoo newsfeed. I find that terrifying.
But I’m glad to know that there are men of conscience like Lt. Vance at the helm – a man of dignity and humanity. I am glad that in the face of such horror, his heart is still soft enough that it can be broken.
May God bless and keep the babies.