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Respecting Privacy Can Be Hard To Do

My daughters were home sick on the day of the Newtown, Conn., shooting. They were taking naps when I heard the news. I’m so glad they were close. As I watched photos of parents clutching their children and an unnamed woman with long dark hair openly grieving in front of the school, I couldn’t help but lose it a little.

I watched President Barack Obama give a tearful address, and listened as the anchorman and reporter discussed whether those were real tears the president wiped away. Seriously.


I also saw desperate cameramen angling for the best shot from a helicopter. I know they’re just doing their jobs.

At the same time public radio stations received an email from NPR explaining how they planned to cover the event differently. They weren't releasing the names of the victims until officials made them public. They had decided to hold back on contacting families of victims, even though it meant other news organizations might have those stories first.

I was proud of NPR -- or at least someone at NPR -- for taking a step back and thoughtfully deciding how to approach this event.

On the Monday following the shooting I had my regular conference call with the Fronteras Desk team. And some of my colleagues tried to come up with new angles on how to cover the shooting. I’ve had these conversations many times over the last 15 years when tragedy strikes. And they can reach a feverish pitch. It’s our job to discuss what the public wants to know and what makes a good story. But we forget sometimes that these are real people.

In the past when I have interviewed parents grieving a son or daughter who died serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, I try to imagine that I’m calling my sister or brother or my mom or dad. I also try to keep a professional distance, but in the end what makes a good story is compassion and connecting the subject to the listener.