A few lessons from Newtown media coverage

We insist you keep abreast of the big news, the more and the more in-depth the better. This is a win-win-win. It helps makes you a better community member, it creates an informed point of view and helps you learn your craft at a practical level.

Sometimes it helps you learn both things to do and things to beware of. Some of the coverage surrounding the murders in Newtown, Conn. can apply here.

First, from Poynter: News orgs circulate Facebook profile, photos of man who wasn’t the shooter:

The Facebook profile showed a Ryan Lanza from Newtown, Conn., who currently lives in Hoboken, N.J. — a male who looks like he’s in his 20s. The photo fit the description, so countless news orgs ran with it in stories and tweets.

Problem is, it was the wrong guy.

Hours later, there were reports that Adam Lanza, 20, was the shooter, not his brother Ryan. The AP’s latest report explains that “earlier, a law enforcement official mistakenly transposed the brothers’ first names.”

Part of this, the mis-identification part, is on the local authorities. They had a huge and tough job that day, but the mixed up names belongs to them. The social media error, that was someone in a newsroom rushing too fast.

Slow down, just a hitch. Don’t guess at this. Consider the scope of what is going on here. In this instance you’re about to say this guy killed dozens of people.

That merits another minute or two of work, don’t you think?

From Mediaite: Piers Morgan quack says people with autism lack empathy: ‘Something’s missing in the brain’:

That’s right, Dr. Amador doesn’t know enough, because people with autism, people with Asperger’s, aren’t “missing something in the brain,” nor do they lack a “capacity for empathy” or “social connection,” and there has been grossly insufficient study of Autism Spectrum Disorders’ (ASD) relationship with anxiety disorders. People with ASDs are as capable of empathy as neuro-typical people, if not more, but can have difficulty perceiving nonverbal social cues, which can make people who don’t know any better think they lack empathy. A TV expert speaking about autism should know better, and should also know that people constantly accusing them of being mass murderers is likely to cause more anxiety than the autism. Ditto the fact that developmentally disabled people are much more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of it.

Beware the “expert” who’s ready to talk about whatever, at a moment’s notice. Beware the “expert” who speaks in absolutes. There is a possibility this person is going to do something to diminish your angle, hurt your credibility, insult your audience or be flat out wrong.

Back to Poynter: Guidelines for interviewing juveniles:

Understanding how young people see the world around them often demands that we hear what they have to say. Adults aren’t the only ones with worthy views of news. But interviewing young people raises some of the most challenging questions faced by journalists.


The journalist must weigh the journalistic duty of “seeking truths and reporting them as fully as possible” against the need to minimize any harm that might come to a juvenile in the collection of information.

CNN and others have caught some flack from interviewing kids. There’s a compassion ethic there. There’s a question of children in general as it relates to ethic there even if, as CNN says, they received permission from parents. There are some great tips in this Poynter piece and you should read it.

Not every story about Newtown has to be directly about the horror that happened in a classroom. Here is one of my favorite secondary stories after the Newtown shootings: Dogs to help mend hearts in Newtown:

“The dogs have become the bridge,” said Lynn Buhrke, 66, who is a dog handler for a female golden retriever named Chewie. “People just sit down and talk to you.”

The dogs’ first stop Sunday in Newtown was Christ the King Lutheran Church, which is holding two funerals this week for two children who were slain during the shooting, Hetzner said.

“You could tell which ones … were really struggling with their grief because they were quiet,” Hetzner said. “They would pet the dog, and they would just be quiet.”


One thought on “A few lessons from Newtown media coverage

  1. Pingback: This plumbing has happened before, this plumbing will happen again « Kenny Smith | A few words …

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