Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Reflection On The Media Coverage of the Tragedy in Connecticut

First and Foremost, I must express my most heartfelt sorrow and condolences for the senseless act of violence that took place on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.  I cannot imagine the pain that the community is feeling as they mourn the loss of so many innocent lives.  This was truly a dark day for  humanity and for our collective innocence.  The bravery of teachers and first responders in keeping safe as many of the children and adults as possible is inspirational.

The purpose of my post today is to reflect on my experience watching the 11 o'clock news last night.  When I returned home from school on Friday, I intentionally kept the news off and the conversation on other things because my 6 year old daughter was playing with her 5 and 4 year old cousins.  This was a reaffirming sight that helped all of the adults during this difficult evening.  Once all went home and both of my daughters went to bed (the 13 year old was at a friend's house until 10pm), my wife and I watched the 11 o'clock news.  This probably was not the wisest move before bed as it kept me up until about 2am and caused me to sleep through the 7:30am #Satchat twitter chat in which I intended to participate.

The news of the day was clearly disturbing, as it was for all of the world.  As an elementary school principal it was difficult to process what I was seeing and hearing, but one thing that was clear was that I did not like the way it was being reported.  I switched channels and found that it was no different on any channel.  Here is my problem...

This event evokes the most visceral emotions imaginable.  While I was at school, I basically read a bulleted list from the Associated Press and every fiber of my being was shaken and I felt sick to my stomach; there was no need for the news to amplify the feelings that I was already feeling.  Now, when I watched these 11 o'clock newscasts, I was disgusted by the need to further scare the public and magnify the already unimaginable feelings that we have been experiencing.

It was like reading essays in a creative writing competition.  If I was judging these newscasts as pieces of fiction, I would have been praising the use of descriptive language and literary conventions in bringing the scene to life.  The use of words such as, slaughtered, madman, evil, lifeless bodies, carnage, diabolical, and so many others would have been perfect for evoking images in my mind as I read a James Patterson novel or a Steven King story; but for this real-life tragedy, it just seemed in bad taste.  I think that sometimes in the name of informing the public our news outlets focus so much on outdoing one another that they forget to be cognizant that there are humans on the other end of their broadcast.

Please don't think that I want to limit news coverage or prevent anyone from learning the facts.  I just think that there needs to be some thought given to when a story needs to be left alone and simply reported.  I assure you that all of the feelings that were intended by the gruesome descriptions on the news were evoked without the use of the most horrible adjectives the writer could find.  I am a true proponent of 24/7 news.  I love my smartphone and having the option to engage with the news when I want to and in a personal and private fashion.

One other pet peeve of mine is the blanketed coverage of the event that is nearly impossible to avoid.  Working with and having young children makes it important for me to be assured that I am in control of what their ears hear.  It is nearly impossible to put on the television at all when they are awake for the coming days because I lose that control as a parent.  I wish that the news would be as sensitive with this devastating information as it is with the results of the Olympics.  During the two weeks of the Olympics the evening news casts read a disclaimer letting the viewing public know that if they do not want to know the results, they should turn down their volume or look away.  With these kinds of warnings parents could have more control.

I realize that the issues that I am having with the news coverage will likely not change and that I just need to deal with it; however, I can always dream.  Of course, things are raw for all of us at this moment and I know that I am over-sensitive to everything, but I think that we need to realize that there is truly only so much our hearts and minds can take.  On Monday when I return to school with the staff, we will be dealing with our own emotions about this tragedy as we address the many needs and emotions of the children.  I know that we, as adults need to take great care in what the children see and hear on the television, but what about the adults.  Do we really need to be treated as though we aren't able to form our own emotions?  Do we really need a news writer to amplify them for us?  I don't think so.
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