Newtown and News Media: A Mix of Tension and Gratitude

Networks mostly clear out of Connecticut, but station reporters stick with awful story
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A slow-moving line of traffic on Church Hill Road leads into
heartbroken Newtown, Conn., and another line of traffic heads out. Everyone
slows to stare at St. Rose Church of Lima, where funerals for two of the
children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 are being held
Tuesday.

A bell tolls constantly in the chilly, damp air.

Across from the church is a tiny Citgo station, and the
muddy lot behind that holds dozens of television trucks -- NBC4, PIX 11, WABC,
NBC Philadelphia, CBS 2 New York.

Most of the national media had moved out as of noon on Tuesday,
but the local station crews, from both New York and Hartford-New Haven -- as
well as Boston, Providence and Philadelphia -- are sticking with the story.

It is gray and cold. Seven burly policemen stand next to
their motorcycles where the church lawn hits the street, keeping the uninvited
out. A handwritten 'No Media' sign has been erected -- there are several around
town -- but it's hard to say if it is official; dozens of media professionals
stand nearby, their boots and equipment turning the lawn to mud. As reporters,
they'd love to be inside the church. As humans going through the emotional
drain of the past five days, they may be relieved to be outside.

Newtown no press-top

Several police cars are parked in front of the church, near
the hearse. They bear the names of neighboring towns -- Meriden, Trumbull,
Norwalk -- as there are presumably not enough police cars in Newtown to cover
the dreadful tragedy that occurred a few miles east of here, and its aftermath.

Though the media crush has thinned considerably, there
remains an uneasy relationship between the reporters and the residents. A woman
keeps driving by, say the station staffers, telling everyone to "get the
hell out."

"They do not want us here," said one Connecticut
photographer.

A reporter from a New York O&O mentions the station
hiring a private security professional for the day, after a motorist threatened
one of their staffers with his car. With a service for Jessica Rekos, who was
6, going on inside, a man of about 20 -- wearing scruffy facial hair and a
scowl -- walked by the media, growling, "It's a funeral, people -- not a TV
station!"

The remaining reporters are pleased to see the overseas
crews have largely left. The sense of decorum was different with the
foreigners, they say; they share reports of sneaking into private services,
crossing police tape and chasing hearses from the non-U.S. reporting staffs.

"No ethics," grumbles an O&O photographer.

Most residents appear to appreciate the stations' efforts.
"The coverage has been wonderful -- they are respecting people's
privacy," says Anne Maloy, who stopped by the church from Trumbull.
"They've stayed on the outskirts when they needed do. I think they've done
a beautiful job."

Maloy has no children, but says of the murdered Sandy Hook
Elementary School students, "I feel like these are my kids."

She mentions a report on Jessica Rekos and her love of
horses -- how the girl wanted cowboy boots and a cowboy hat for Christmas. One
local TV report stuck out in her mind, though she could not recall the station.
"The thing that hit me most was when a reporter said, 'They're so young
they haven't even lost their baby teeth,'" says Maloy. "That really
hit home."

Newtown's little downtown is spread out, with green space
between the shops, and no one is in the mood to shop. So foot traffic -- and
potential sources for interviews -- is light. Any fresh face not carrying a
camera, microphone or notepad is approached for comment. A man in a giant,
tricked-out pickup truck, license plate "LoDown" and his son's
college basketball statistics adhered to the window, parks in the church
driveway and pulls out a sign that reads "God Bless America. The O'Quinn
Family of Hermanville, MS." He's swarmed by the media, until a police
officer in a handlebar moustache tells him to get out of the driveway.

The man, wearing a biker jacket with 'Harley Davidson'
across the back, parks 30 feet down the street. He pulls a bag of balloons out
of his truck and sends them skyward. The media -- NECN, ABC6 out of Providence --
envelopes him again.

After he leaves, the reporters see a woman holding a bouquet
of flowers, and descend on her too.
A few doors down, the local Starbucks has become a newsroom for working press
filing stories on deadline. The woman ringing up coffees says she's taking one
day at a time. "It's good to be working," she says. "The last
few days I was home, with nothing to do. That wasn't good."

At the Newtown Convenience & Deli, a woman struggles to
drive a homemade sign, reading "In Loving Memory of the Sandy Hook
Victims," into the muddy ground out front.

At Bagel Delight, there's a framed and signed headshot of
WFSB Hartford anchor Scot Haney on the counter that speaks to happier times
between the media and the public. "Most of them have been respectful and
have not been harassing my customers," says the proprietor.

The church bell continues to ring. Michael George of Meriden
isn't sure why he came out on Tuesday. He lost his daughter Laurie, who was 10,
in a school bus accident in 1972. That might have something to do with it. He
says next week will be particularly hard on the parents of the slain children,
when extended family departs and people return to regular routines.

He's been watching NBC-owned WVIT, and credits the stations
for taking pains to get the story right when others were reporting a litany of
falsities related to the mass murder, including the perpetrator's name and his
mother's connection to the school. (As one New York reporter on site puts it,
"In a Twitter world, it's anything goes.")

"Unlike the national reporting, they were slower to
report some stuff that in the end turned out to be inaccurate," says
George. "They were more careful."

The funeral service lets out at 1:45, and the reporters get
ready. There's a crew from WBZ Boston, one from WPVI Philadelphia, News 12
Connecticut, WFSB. People file out of the church, check their phones, light a
cigarette, hug a loved one. A WVIT reporter politely approaches a young woman
for a comment.

"I understand you have a job to do, but show some
respect," says the woman.

No one is talking, at least until WVIT gets an older man to
speak.

"She made the sun come out," he says of little
Jessica.

Corny as it sounds, the sun does indeed poke through the
gray -- its first appearance in days. The attendees of the service get in their
cars. The media assemblage gradually thins.

The police rev up their motorcycles and head east on Church
Hill Road, and that long line of traffic, with many, many more church services
to work.

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