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December 15, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

TV reporters — especially those working for the cable news networks — were being bombarded with criticism on Friday for interviewing children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. In an interview with Dylan Byers of, Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, suggested that the coverage represented “irresponsible journalism.” Shapiro pointed out, “These are little kids who are in shock, who are in fear, who may be confused about what they have seen. And I think an interview like that can only add to the pressure on the child on a very difficult day.” Rebecca Greenfield of The Atlantic magazine’s blog argued that “what little bit of detail these ‘witnesses’ have to offer doesn’t seem to be worth the insensitive nature of the questioning” and posted a number of viewer comments on Twitter that supported that view. And James Poniewozik, Time magazine’s TV critic, commented that while the TV interviews with the children may have been “arresting” and “heartbreaking,” they were also “rash, unnecessary and wrong.” He added: “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.” However, Kelly McBride, who teaches ethics at the Poynter school of journalism in St. Petersburg, FL told the Huffington Post: “I don’t think it is inherently wrong to interview children after a traumatic event like this.” She noted that Poynter has developed a set of guidelines (that may have been more honored in the breach than in the observance during Friday’s coverage) for interviewing children during such events. Poynter’s McBride and Mallary Tenore commented, “Done well, an interview with a child after a news event can help shed light on the experience and validate the child’s memory of the event. But not all journalists interview children well, and that can be especially obvious on TV.” They pointed out the difference between the CBS reporter who interviewed a child who described how a teacher had saved his life by grabbing him into her room as the gunman rampaged through a hallway and the CNN reporter who asked a child, “Was everybody screaming and crying?” Poynter’s guidelines for journalists interviewing children at the scene of a tragedy are posted here.