Tuned In

Kids at Tragedies: Turn Off the Cameras

There is no good journalistic reason to put a child at a mass-murder scene on live TV, permission of the parents or not.

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Danny Ghitis / Novus Select

Jordan Stofko, a seventh-grader at Newtown Middle School who also attended Sandy Hook Elementary, was interviewed with her father near her home on Friday, December 14, 2012.

Whatever the ultimate casualty count at Sandy Hook Elementary School, every student there Friday was a victim. These kids—10 years old, 5 years old—had been through an experience ghastlier than most adults have ever survived.

Minutes after they made it to safety outside the school, having heard and seen unspeakable things, cable, network and local TV crews were waiting to interview them, live on camera, about things a kid should never have to talk about. Flanked by their parents, boys and girls too young to see an R-rated movie described being hustled to safety as bullets whizzed by them in the halls of their school.

It was arresting. It was heartbreaking. And it was rash, unnecessary and wrong. There is no good journalistic reason to put a child at a mass-murder scene on live TV, permission of the parents or not. There’s not even a bad-but-practical reason to do it, beyond getting buzz and adding “color” to a story. No one learned anything they couldn’t have from talking to people off-camera and privately.

(PHOTOS: Connecticut Elementary School Copes After Shooting)

Yes, reporting tragedy is terrible business, awful and necessary. Unspeakable things have happened, and it’s a journalist’s job to find out about them and tell the world. This happens in war, natural disasters and murders; it’s a sad fact of the news. Sometimes that means interviewing victims and traumatized witnesses; sometimes that even means interviewing kids.

But there are much better ways to do this. The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, for instance, offers guidelines for journalists interviewing children in tragedies: “Avoid interviewing children at the scene. They are very likely in shock and need comfort, not questioning… find a quiet place to talk away from the chaos of emergency personnel and other victims.” Also: “Be willing to wait until the parents and child are ready to talk, even if that is weeks or months after the crisis. You will likely get a much better interview.” Above all: “Traumatized people often make poor decisions. Be prepared for adults or children to change their minds once the interview is complete. If this happens, don’t use the material.”

There’s no changing your mind before a live camera, however gentle and respectful the interviewer. A non-recorded interview—as many print outlets were also running today—is a delicate enough thing to handle. But you can at least do it cautiously, take time, and give kids and parents an opportunity to rethink their decision to talk.

For that matter, a reporter off-camera can take a minute to ask some questions: “Do I need this? Is this adding to anyone’s understanding of the story? Would I want my own child asked this? Is this decent?” (Not to mention: is there a consenting adult I could be talking to instead?)

An 8-year-old kid is not a media-savvy spokesperson under the best circumstances. Under the worst circumstances talking to them live on camera, when they’re still processing a nightmare and are speaking words they can’t edit or take back—is unconscionable. This is true even with a parent’s permission, even if the kid is willing, even if he or she “seems fine.” You do not know how fine that kid is. No one knows how badly affected a child is moments after surviving a mass murder: not a psychologist, not a parent, certainly not the stressed-out reporter sticking out a microphone.

It’s difficult enough after a tragedy like this to answer how we can protect kids from violence in a safe place. We at least know how we can protect them from being exploited in the moments afterward. Turn the cameras away.

75 comments
xalf18
xalf18

Absolutely correct.  When I witnessed TV interviews with children at the school, I was not only mortified by the occasion but moreover I cursed the press for exploiting these kids, already traumatized, for the sake of getting a story.  These parasites are worse than the paparazzi and should be ashamed of themselves for subjecting these innocent kids to the questions, which themselves were ridiculous.  It seems that anything for a story is fair game, no matter that their subjects (the kids) may be further hurt by their actions.

vrcplou
vrcplou

The media no longer "reports"; they wallow.  They shriek, they howl; they keen and gnash their teeth.  It borders on hysteria and it's disgusting.  What's worse is watching them run off, mid-wallow, to the Next Big National Tragedy.

@Priyanka_Hearts
@Priyanka_Hearts

This shows how cheap some journalists are . At this kind of moment , why not behave as part of this humanity ??

Sarawaters
Sarawaters

I am no child psychologist, but seems to me that being interviewed by national press and the resulting celebrity can change the way a child reacts or involves themselves in future events that produce such notoriety.   There is a certain lure for the mentally vulnerable to achieve publicity through these horrendous acts.  And any six-year-old is mentally vulnerable.  Children generally thrive on attention.  Their brains are not fully formed.  If this slaughter leads to children receiving attention on a massive scale, what might be the long term results?  Media must be act responsibly.  I saw no evidence of responsibility in these interviews.

nettwench
nettwench

I was appalled watching CNN interview these very young children. Far too young to consent, even if their parents have the bad judgement to allow it.

dfusss1982
dfusss1982

This is just the latest example of a news media selling death and tragedy for advertising revenue.  It's most obvious on places like Yahoo, where they tempt their viewers to click links by promising all the horrific details...  and if that doesn't work they might throw in a video of kids running from the building with pure terror on their faces...  all to generate hits to sell advertising.  

I disagree with the author on one point.  Journalists aren't doing any kind of public service by covering these kind of stories.  There is no reason why anyone outside of the immediate community needs to know about these events.  What good does it do?  Who does it help?  If anything it only sensationalizes these shootings and causes it to happen more often.

I want to end this by pointing out something I've been thinking of these last couple of days.  During a baseball game, if someone runs out on the field, the cameras all turn away.  They don't show it...  Why?  Because showing it would cause it to happen more often.  There is a lesson there, I think.

lgrigelevich
lgrigelevich

I whole-heartedly agree with this article. I posted yesterday and emailed every major network: "PLEASE stop interviewing the children. It is so morally wrong to be seeking out these little, innocent children and making the re-tell and relive this nightmare. It is reprehensible to do this; no story is worth this. Where is your moral barometer, media representatives, that you can go after the "headline" or "top story" at the expense of the innocents? PLEASE stop....please put these children before your ratings."

There are many ways to skin a cat. the story could have been very well-covered WITHOUT exploiting innocent children who have already been traumatized. Shame on the media and the parents who allowed their children to be interviewed.

RubySea
RubySea

Keep the cameras on and definitely interview whomever wants to be interviewed. It's their prerogative to grant the interviews or not. If they want to speak then we should listen. Period. I am VERY PROUD of the media on this one! I know Alex Jones is just somewhere nashing his teeth!! How's this for Free Press!!! No censorship here!!

DawnDee
DawnDee

I agree with this whole-heartedly. I was watching those interviews last night with my 12-year-old son, and the whole time I was thinking, "This is horrifying and unnecessary, and there's no way I would allow my child to be interviewed this way." I'm a print journalist, and I understand the pressure to get the stories and the quotes, but honestly, I felt a little ashamed of my profession last night. The photos of people wracked with grief or uncertainty added little to the story, and invaded the privacy of these people. And the kids, as Poniewozik said, are too young to see R-rated movies and shouldn't have to describe such events for the prurient interest of the public. In hindsight, I wish I had turned off the TV.

Lucelucy
Lucelucy

I have a problem with the coverage at all, but have no idea what to do about it.  A media black-out would be impossible.  A friend of mine yesterday suggested that we just never release the name of the shooter, that the public gets no details about  his/her life.  That's not likely either.  What is likely is that someone is out there compiling their own Guinness Book of World Records and thinking, 20?  20's nothin'.  I could take out .........

JaneDoe
JaneDoe

It is quite sad how mixed up stories can get and how the media has to have as much coverage and interviews about the situation. Our small town just recently had a tragedy where kids were shot dead in their house and the gunman soon after took his life. The papers said that the parents were drug addicts and that that was the reason for the shooting (which was false- no one knows the motive). I was also disgusted to see reporters outside of the church as we walked up the sidewalk, they were quick to try and interview us. As we were in the middle of the funeral, there were reporters and cameras in the balcony of the church getting footage for that nights news....Why on earth would any TV station fight over who could get the most footage of a funeral for children....it makes me ill to see what our world is coming to. Where are our morals?

atxgooner
atxgooner

Thanks for the piece, James.  Overall, the media's handling of this tragic event was a disgrace.  Misinformation and incorrect accusations spread like wildfire throughout the day.  I got whiplash from seeing how often the story changed from the media outlets.  This type of behaviour is the new norm when news organizations are motivated to get the highest ratings to bring in the most advertising revenue.  Our society would be better served if our news outlets did not have to make a profit.  Perhaps then we could get reliable and respectable journalism on a consistent basis.  

prioripete
prioripete

Patriotism is the power regime that kills over ten thousand a year by guns and millions more by poverty, is indifferent of how we feel about innocent victims and loved ones.

StephenGreen
StephenGreen

Our media driven society rears its ugly head here, despite the 'public's right to know, most media types don't care much about what is or isn't the right thing to do here. Any parent knows my kid(s) saw enough already, to leave them alone would be impossible...

Geronimo
Geronimo

Rubbish,talking about the incident helps the Kids tooo.Everybody want to share the limelight here.

DCJS
DCJS

Also, I agree, great article by Time!! Very responsible, dignified and respectful viewpoint. I wish the media would get an overhaul in this country. I honestly think we need to outlaw allowing children to be exploited - hence, Honey Boo Boo. We are corrupting our youth. 

DCJS
DCJS

I agree, why are people putting their children on the news??!! What benefit is this to the child?? Go home with your children and talk to them, love them, hug them and pray with them, but stop broadcasting them for the world to see. And I have to say, these journalists are acting like vultures! I seriously read on another news site they journalists went to the home of the first identified slain child and knocked on the door to speak to the parents AND posted how much their house cost! Ridiculous. Journalism needs to find a moral compass and discretion when tragedies occur. 

lorshe1175
lorshe1175

Why pretend nothing happened. Somebody's initial reaction from trauma exposure would be to block it out, but eventually it will take a toll on their mental, emotional, physical state. Maybe they are not ready to talk now, but they must.

ahoo
ahoo

We have to understand why this happened.  Why would a woman who has no ties to military have an automatic gun in her house.  Why should she be allowed to have gun or ANYONE has a gun in their home. Why would not anyone address the main problem and everyone is focusing on the result.  The boy is the result of all of us actions.  You can not plant a bad seed and expect it be grow fruits of happiness....  Why is the media full of poisoned movies for kids.  The next one coming out is more violent than the last.  It seems there is competition on who can make the worst movie or cartoon for kids.  The more violent gets more attention and more $$$$$.  We are all in this together either by supporting the wrong media and buying the wrong video games or buying any games. Why there is no gun control.  This is our fault not a 20yrs old boy fault.  He is just a product of our actions.  why don't we for once take responsibility for our wrong doing

ganderse
ganderse

I agree! Tonight a little girl was interviewed on Pierce Morgan, and it didn't take a child psychologist to figure out that this kid didn't want to talk. Her stupid mother, on the other hand, seemed to want *HER* 15 mins. of fame. These kids have been through enough; knock it off, people.

ahoo
ahoo

I totally agree.  This county is all about publicity and what makes money and brings more attention.  Here you have it.  A kid who is product of this publicity and making money at any cost.  The 20 yrs old is product of this very media who shows all the movies about killing. all the game shows that is about the killings. What do you think that does to the mind of an innocent child.  It brainwashes it to go and do the same thing. Now media has more buzz to play with and interview kids who are victims of the crime.  shame on the media in this country.  The are the main cause of this problem.  I can not keep my kids away from this poisoned media......

DarrylSampson
DarrylSampson

Wow I have so much respect for Time after seeing this

AmyONeillMcKowen
AmyONeillMcKowen

I was furious to see these children being interviewed. Not just at the journalists, but at the parents as well, smh! Kudos to the parents that hustled their children away as fast as possible, away from prying eyes and inquiring minds. I can't say enough prayers for the families that lost their little Angels today and the leaders that chose Fight over Flight. God Bless you all.

gmar2
gmar2

I was shocked to see reporters asking young children their first and last names on camera.  No one should ever be allowed to broadcast this information. The reporters and the stations that allowed this to be broadcast should be ashamed of themselves.  If it isn't against the law, it should be. 

WTFIsGoingOnHere
WTFIsGoingOnHere

These families have enough to endure without media hounds sticking cameras their faces. After this kind of unimaginable tragedy, I just find it the media's behaviour reprehensible. Exercise a little humanity and extend the families some common decency--you'd think they deserve that much...

Sam27
Sam27

I do not want to see kids being interviewed after such a tragic event. Reporters should have common sense and respect. Not too much to ask of professionals!

GlennWoodson
GlennWoodson

I was unhappy with the use of children unnecessarily.  What the Dart Center is not mentioning is that these images and interviews are now permanent records for every one of these children.  They will be forever searchable on the internet just as the son erroneously identified as the shooter.  The 24 hours news cycle has got to change and that will only happen when the $$$ is not the driver of journalism and reporting.  Of course that means media control is as likely as gun control in this country..

sarell
sarell

either way the guy had guns, if this guy had some kind of what they are calling it now as a "brain disorder" the parents should have had them locked up. no you cannot predict if someone is going to go crazy or not, but there are always signs. Its just a tragic story and I am praying for all involved.

JustinScoggins
JustinScoggins

Unacceptable... What parent would even allowthis? Take them home and away from the scene. Have them talk to apsychologist not a journalist.

dragon0231
dragon0231

I was shocked that they were talking to kids on live TV at the fire station that they were evacuated to. One of them was a little girl and I did not see the parents on camera.

sarell
sarell

i agree with BobbNoub-gun control is key here.....why was this guy able to possess a gun??? Who sold it to him? Keep the guns in the hands of people that need them

BobbyNoub
BobbyNoub

I was so frustrated when i saw this poor 3rd grade girl answered to a reporter questions from WHNT next to her mom. I said fired her and that mom needs a lot parenting classes. It didnt even click on her mind. Ahhhh God What is wrong with people? Too much media in America, too much violence on TVs, it is time for better gun control regulations. 

sarell
sarell

I agree with most of you, children should not be placed on tv, not even pictures. There was pictures of children walking single file holding onto each other crying and as upset as they were, they had a camera pointed right at them. Their poor hearts are broken, they are traumatized for the rest of their life, and this reporter obviously cared more about getting this photo than how these children felt...and as far as re:Children deserve to have their voices heard as well..: that is BS its just an excuse to try to make these kids feel comfortable talking to reporters, not at all civil on the reporters end and yes the parents should not allow it either

shortshazu
shortshazu

EXCELLENT article. I was absolutely disgusted to see children interviewed about this horrific event this morning. They had just experienced something they should NEVER have to experience, and there were microphones and cameras shoved in their faces! Believe me, if I was a parent of one of these children, and a reporter had dared approach me to interview my child, the reporter would have a whole new headline..."Woman's Shoe Lodged in Reporter's Ass." News at 11.

ReneeLeslie
ReneeLeslie

I absolutely cringed when I saw a young 5-6 yr. old child telling about whatshe  heard & saw. They are CHILDREN!  Leave them alone! Shame on the journalists who put any of these children on camera - with or without the parents permission. I agree with what the article states about asking yourself, Would I want MY child on the news after what he or she had just been through?  And if that journalist is young and lacks the maturity to discern such wisdom, then perhaps that journalist should not be covering such tragic, sensitive and traumatizing events - or at least without a wiser more experienced journalist in the lead.

FrankyD.Vaughan
FrankyD.Vaughan

I could not agree more.  These children will forever be changed by what they experienced today.  I actually heard one reporter ask a child "What did the people in the hall look like?"  For God's sake, they were dead in a pool of blood.  If the child actually saw this, do we want them trying to explain what they had seen?  NO!  It's bad enough that they ask adults these questions, but not children. 

BrendaKjelsrud
BrendaKjelsrud

Very well said! I'm sickened by the cold heartedness of the media. Does it really matter who was the first to be on the scene or first to break the story or whose ratings are better because of coverage??? ? Thank you for bringing this to light. You've earned my respect

ScottVetter
ScottVetter

I have to agree - No interviewing kids.  They have enough to deal with.  And to top it off they have parents, relatives, friend, schoolmates, and psychologists who are going to be overly attentive to say the least.  The last thing they need are nosy reporters being in their faces.

vrcplou
vrcplou

I agree and I think the media "ranking" of each shooting incident is also horrible.  And also motivating to anyone else out there that is unstable and on the brink.  I think we have some very damaged people in our society, for whatever reason, and all the attention we place on these events and the perpetrators only serves to motivate other damaged souls who feel unheard and invisible.

AmyONeillMcKowen
AmyONeillMcKowen

@JaneDoe I am sorry for your loss, the towns loss. I pray that your community is finding closure and peace after your tragic event.

Something_Clever
Something_Clever

@lorshe1175 There have been studies that show that grief counselors and continued re-hashing of a tragic event can actually be counter-productive to the mental healing process in some people.  Different people process grief/trauma/etc differently, obviously, and in some cases it is much better for some people to just "get on with their life" (even though that succinct summary sounds callous so soon after such a horrible event).

I don't think a little more (or even a lot more) discretion on the part of journalists would be at all out of order, as Mr. Poniewozik explained.

nonsequitr
nonsequitr

You know that it is legal to own firearms, right? And I think it's going too far to say ~it's our fault and not his fault~ but I do agree with you that we all bear some collective responsibility for this troubled 20-year old.  Hopefully, we'll learn more in the coming weeks. 

AmyONeillMcKowen
AmyONeillMcKowen

@ahoo Second Amendment!! Read it and weep! We have many guns in our home. All but 2 are in the gun safe. We keep one in our bed room 6ft in the air away from our children, because you never know when you have to protect yourself. And the other is in my car to protect me and my children. We hunt and our children understand what guns do and not to touch them. There was no reason for this woman NOT to own a gun. And she may have had a gun safe and she may have given her son the combination, he was an adult that lived in the house. She probably had no reason to think he was a danger to himself or others. Gun control is not the answer! Do I think the violent videos games are a problem? YES I do. They just aren't necessary. I filter what my children watch on t.v. and even the news. There really is too much violence and blood on t.v. We just had a tornado pass within 50ft of our home this week. I can barely handle her questions and reducing the anxiety of that. Thankfully she is away at the hunting camp this weekend, otherwise I wouldn't know anything was going on.

DCJS
DCJS

I agree, these children have had an incredibly traumatic day! Why in the world would a parent further subject their child to an awkward and overwhelming evening by taking them to be interviewed on television? I'm sorry, I have compassion and love for everyone involved in this tragedy, but that whole interview fiasco was ridiculous. Sorry, on a tangent! Liked your post though... 

AmyONeillMcKowen
AmyONeillMcKowen

@sarell "Males reach a single peak of vulnerability for developing schizophrenia between the ages of 18 and 25 years." (http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=8805)

The signs may have been there for others to see and he may have been hiding them. Classmates of his from high school said he was a genius, he was very smart, very kind, not a trouble maker. His brother has had contact with him for almost 2 years. That tells me something was amiss. From personal experience I haven't spoken to my sister is 2 years because of her bipolar that she treats on and off. I don't want the drama around me or my children. Doesn't mean I think she would do something this bat sh&% crazy. I pray for the father that has lost his son and woman he loved some time ago. I also, pray for the brother that has lost his mother and brother.

dragon0231
dragon0231

@sarell  

He did not own the guns he took them from him mother that he killed. What key is to know what you are talking about before you say it. 

nonsequitr
nonsequitr

. 'We hunt and our children understand what guns do and not to touch them.'

Until they don't

AmyONeillMcKowen
AmyONeillMcKowen

@nonsequitr Until they don't..... don't what?? Listen to and obey the rules? Use the knowledge and education we have instilled in them? We don't just talk about it once. We refresh with them what is expected and that guns can be very dangerous if you don't respect them. The majority of children shooting children because they were "playing" with a loaded firearm is because they were NOT educated about the weapon by the irresponsible adults that left them where children could find them. Responsible gun owners EDUCATE their children about what to do and what not to do. My husband and I both grew up with rifles for hunting and hand guns for protection. Responsible gun owners do not buy TOY GUNS for their children to play with and shoot at people. Its inevitable though that they will pretend to shoot with even a stick. We stress that we only aim at varmints and targets, even with a stick. My children do not enter my bedroom without the presence of an adult, they do not play in or around vehicles so the chance of them running across the one I carry in my vehicle is slim to none.