One of the many tragedies to come out of Friday's mass shooting in Connecticut is the way information has actually come out of it. Sadly, some of the best sources of information for what happened inside Sandy Hook Elementary before, during, and after the shooting aren't your average eyewitnesses — they're children who've just gone through drama and witnessed death in front of their young eyes. That extra layer of sensitivity doesn't seem to matter to CNN or NBC, which have been broadcasting and re-broadcasting interviews with schoolchildren all day. And what little bit of detail these "witnesses" have to offer doesn't seem to be worth the insensitive nature of the questioning — at least not according to the slew of people on Twitter calling out these news organizations to stop talking to kids, immediately.
While these interviews might provide a morsel of clarity, it can come off as exploitative. One of the first things journalists should consider in these situations, per Poynter's guidelines, is the following question: "What is my journalistic purpose in interviewing this juvenile?" To some, at this point, questioning these children right now provides more "buzz" than intel.
Not only that, interviewing children following events like these can increase emotional and psychological damage later on. "The first 24 hours after witnessing an event such as the Columbine shooting is a time when children need to be with people who love and support them," said child psychology Donna Gaffney, referring to incidents like Columbine. "Children who are witnesses to violent events or tragic occurrences are victims in their own right. They may not be the direct recipients but as witnesses they are profoundly affected." The main piece of advice Gaffney has for reporters is: Don't try to interview a child who has witnessed injury or death. If that doesn't resonate, you can always refer back to the following golden rule: Do unto other people's kids as you would have them do unto your kids.
Update, 4:28 p.m.: Wolf Blitzer clarified on CNN that the network is "very sensitive" to families in these situations, explaining that its reporters "always ask permission" from parents before interviewing their children.
Update, 6:15 p.m.: Anderson Cooper stands alone.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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