By Jessica Driscoll
With troubling imagery of the Newtown shootings on a screen behind him, editor Matt DeRienzo challenged the desensitization of journalists and their stories in his keynote speech Saturday at Keystone Press Awards Banquet.
DeRienzo is the Connecticut-based group editor for Digital First Media and led the company’s coverage of the shooting, which included 100 journalists from DFM newspapers.
The banquet carried a tone just like any other such function, until DeReinzo reached the stage and pictures of distressed Sandy Hook Elementary School families filled the screen. Pictures of weeping mothers, distraught families pressed together and the warmth of hugs amongst communities stopped the cell phones and dinner conversation.
“This is a depressing time,” DeReinzo said in the somber tones of a father who thought of his own young children when reflecting on the shootings.
The emotional effects this event had on the families was evident in the display of pictures, but DeRienzo also pondered the effect on the volunteers, police officers, morticians and journalists.
Many of these responders had seen at least eight or nine caskets sized specifically for little children that morning, DeReinzo recalled. “I imagine the police as they walked into the building seeing pools of blood.”
He described a table of morticians at a hotel bar, unwinding after a terrible day, and a table of equally affected journalists nearby.
Objective journalism is defined as dealing with facts without interpretation or emotion. But how does a journalist remain unemotional covering something like Newtown? he asked.
“When I’m in bed terrible scenes and emotions flood my mind,” DeReinzo said, emotion filling his voice .
It has been five months since the Newtown shootings, and DeReinzo said that he is still angry. The effects of such tragic events are long, many times lifelong.
In addition to the effect on journalists, DeReinzo talked about the effect on journalism when some get it wrong in an effort to be first. The errors of some in Newtown still fuel conspiracy theories and ideological agendas, and some made similar mistakes in Boston.
“I don’t know how much we have learned as journalists,” DeReinzo said, suggesting– to audience applause — that as a profession journalists should censure publications that get it wrong.
Finally, he asked his audience to consider the effects such terrible news as Newtown have on readers: “Is the desensitization we get as journalists transferring to our audiences?”