Can journalists and grieving communities coexist in tragedy?

NEW YORK (AP) – As a group of journalists stood in front of a morgue to watch the funeral of a child killed in the Uvalde school massacre, some passersby did not hide their anger.

“You are all scum of the earth,” said one woman surveying the cameras.

When tragedy strikes a city in the 21st century, the media follow, the world’s eyes focused on a community during its most difficult hours. Columbine, Sandy Hook, now Uvalde, Texas – the list of places synonymous with horrific mass murders continues to grow.

Journalists are asked to explain what happened, and sometimes to ask uncomfortable questions in places where many people want to be alone to grieve. Is it possible to do it better, coexist within a moment no one wants to be a part of it?

The mercury has gone up in Uvalde. “I hope your whole family will die in the massacre,” a female journalist was told. Some are threatened with arrest for trespassing on public property. A group called the “Guardians of the Children” often blocked the camera’s view with the encouragement of the police.

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Yet there are people like Ben Gonzalez, who, overhearing the woman saying she doesn’t speak for everyone, approached reporters near the morgue. “Thank you for documenting this tragedy,” he said. “We’ll look at the photos you take and appreciate it.”

The shady Courthouse Square in Uvalde is decorated with umbrellas made by TV news crews. Journalists have been stationed at Robb Elementary School, where the shooting took place, near a makeshift memorial filled with flowers, stuffed animals and messages. At the local Starbucks, where many journalists go to work, tables are set aside for Uvalde residents.

These are typical signs of the onslaught of journalists that accompany such incidents.

“I respect people’s wishes if they want me to leave,” said Guillermo Contreras, a senior writer for the San Antonio Express-News. “Till the second day (after the shoot), people were overwhelmed. Journalists have taken over the city. You couldn’t go anywhere without running into the media. ,

Like most allies, the people of Contreras Uvalde try to be sensitive to what they are going through. She has a 10 year old daughter at home.

“When you’re in the center of a situation like this, you really need protection,” said Michelle Gay, who lost her daughter Josephine in the Newtown school shooting a decade ago. “You’re not really in a state of mind to present your feelings in front of the camera.”

Gaye said he had no idea how much attention the story received until the state soldier assigned to protect his family sent him around town to see the memorial.

“At first, I was angry,” said Gaye, co-founder and executive director of Safe and Sound School, an advocacy group. “It felt offensive. It felt hurtful… Also, there were members of the media who were so considerate, caring, and kind.”

The sensitivity that most journalists try to bring to such assignments may be underestimated by those who stick cameras in the faces of crying people, or by asking a grieving parent what it feels like. A parent who lost a child in Newtown saw someone with a camera looking into the window outside their home, said monsignor Robert Weiss of the city’s St. Rose of Lima Parish.

Joy Meyer, a former journalism professor, said that in general, journalists do a poor job of explaining what they do and a bad job puts themselves in the shoes of the people they are interviewing, many People are having the worst days of their lives.

“It’s really valid for people in that community to feel overwhelmed and annoyed,” said Mayer, Trusting News’ director, which helps members of the media improve their relationships with the public.

Kelly McBride, expert in journalism ethics Poynter Institute for Media Studies, Advises news organizations to better prepare when these stories are assigned. Most interviews on the street indicate that this job is not done; She said those in shock and trauma should not make an on-the-spot decision about dealing with the reporter.

He praised CNN for his sensitive handling of the interview of a young survivor of the shooting who smelled himself in the blood of a dead classmate to appear dead. CNN reported what the girl said, but neither showed it nor heard her voice.

Ana Rodriguez, who lost her daughter Maite in the shooting, sat down at her dining room table to tell the Associated Press how the girl aspired to be a marine biologist. She did not want her face to appear on camera to divert attention from her daughter.

Sometimes there is very little time for preparation. Tony Dokopil of CBS News was asked to fly to Texas. Fast. Dokopil said he tried to walk away from the pack and knock on doors; In one case, he came close to a child who died who helped arrange an interview with his parents.

He found the residents polite and respectful even when they did not want to talk. Some people thanked him for being there and telling stories.

Gaye recommends that journalists focus their attention on those who have lost their lives, not on the perpetrators. There has been a notable effort on the part of news organizations to reduce the mention of the shooters, although Gay was concerned that he had seen more after Uvalde.

In Uvalde, questions raised about the police’s response to the shooting have lengthened the time the shooting has been in the news and increased hostility towards journalists. CNN used a tag team to stake the school’s police chief Pete Arredondo, who directed the operations, and obtained an ambush interview.

“You have people who are supportive of law enforcement,” Contreras said. “it is a small town; People know each other. All of a sudden people are pointing fingers at officers you know, so there’s a division.”

For people in communities such as Newtown and Uvalde immediately following these stories, sheer repetition often wore off.

“If there’s an interview here it’s 150,” said one downtown shopkeeper who, like many in Uvalde, did not want his name to appear in a news story. “I mean, how many times can you interview people who don’t know anything?”

There are some suggestions of what is known in the industry as a pool – where a handful of journalists ask questions to executives and answer to a larger group. It is most famously used in the White House.

But McBride said it inevitably leads to less aggressive journalism. Most reporters are driven by an impulse to achieve things their competitors don’t. Contreras said it was tried in a few instances in Uvalde and proved unsatisfactory.

As of this past weekend, things have calmed down in Uvalde. There was only one television satellite truck left at Rob’s school, and a handful of journalists in Courthouse Square on Saturday as an aerial group presented a giant lei and sang songs.

There is no escape from an influx of journalists to a quiet community that is shocked. Weiss is remembered by journalists in a swarm after emerging from a meeting with the parents. He didn’t know what to say. But in general, the Catholic Monsieur said he found the press respectable and understood the importance of its role.

“We needed to get the story out there and we needed to get this story out there,” Weiss said. “Because what has changed in 10 years? If anything, it’s gotten worse.”

Associated Press journalists Acacia Coronado, J.C. Hong, Adriana Gomez Lycon, Jay Reeves and Eliot Spagat in Uvalde, Texas contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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