Newtown, Conn., city officials want my type to stay out of town this Saturday, which marks the first anniversary of the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School. My type, of course, is the nosey parkers who call themselves journalists, the ones who stick microphones and cameras in the faces of the distraught, who knock on the doors of the bereaved and phone them incessantly for interviews.
But neither does the legislative council of Newtown want America to forget what happened in their town one year ago. This paradox — don’t forget us but don’t bother us, either — poured a load of sand into the media gears, as Paul Farhi writes today in the Washington Post. Heeding the admonition to stay away from Newtown this weekend are CNN, Fox News, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, NPR, NewsHour, the New York Times, USA Today and the Washington Post.
I, too, implore reporters to avoid Newtown this Saturday, but for editorial reasons that have nothing to do with sensitivity to the families who lost members in the attack. I deplore anniversary coverage of most if not all events, because in almost all cases anniversaries produce journalism that affixes a new introduction on old clips. Readers may love anniversary stories, but that’s still no excuse for running them unless you’ve got something genuinely new to add. But if you do have something new to add, why wait for the anniversary? Publish it when you confirm it!
The Newtown directive to the press not to report from the city on the event’s anniversary imagines that the city and its residents have a special standing in a “custody battle” over the story, which continues to unspool. Just last week, the 911 recordings from the event were released to the press a week after a judge rejected the state’s attorney’s motion to seal them. “Delaying the release of the audio recordings, particularly where the legal justification to keep them confidential is lacking, only serves to fuel speculation about and undermine confidence in our law enforcement officials,” Superior Court Judge Eliot D. Prescott wrote. According to the Hartford Courant, the state’s attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III wanted the 911 records sealed “because they contained information related to child abuse.”
“It’s almost as if he’s behaving like a private attorney for the Sandy Hook families,” First Amendment attorney Daniel J. Klau complained to the Connecticut Post about Sedensky’s possessive ways. “The state’s attorney is not private counsel for the victims and families. That is troubling.”