Sandy Hook Tragedy: 5 Story Ideas for Student Media

The mid-December shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, continues to garner immense news coverage worldwide. But the student press overall has not produced many stories or commentaries touching on the tragedy– simply because many outlets had already stopped publishing for the semester prior to its occurrence.

At the start of spring semester, college media should at last offer an array of related Sandy Hook reports and perspectives for their student readers. Here are five story ideas to help get them started on their coverage.

The ideas are tied to a few campus newspapers that– much to their credit– have already published news pieces and op-eds.

1) To start, tell the stories of any students, faculty, staff, alumni or nearby community members who are Sandy Hook grads or have a connection of any sort to the school or Newtown– including through a sibling or a friend. For example, The Daily Orange at Syracuse University recently tracked down three SU students and Newtown natives, providing glimpses into how they are dealing with news in which the word “horrifying barely even scratches the surface.”

As an SU senior from Newtown, whose mother is a teacher and younger sister a student at Sandy Hook, told the Orange, “I’m just hoping people realize that this town is a lot more than what’s been displayed on the news for the last day and a half or so. It still really is an idyllic New England town with good schools, and good athletics, and good people.”

2) Along with remembering and honoring the dead, do not forget those still in mourning. As Caleb Hendrich, the editorial editor of The Rocky Mountain Collegian at Colorado State University, writes, “In the coverage and discussion of shootings, and the eventual discussions surrounding gun policy, the lives of the victims and their families need to be held sacrosanct. These are not statistics to be used and exploited. These are not examples to be thrown around lightly. These are people’s lives; their grief and their loss must never ever be forgotten in the wake of these tragedies.”

Using the Newtown shooting as a foundation, explore the larger infrastructure and set of routines surrounding grief and mourning on your campus.  What related services and staff are available for students in mourning over personal and national tragedies? How do students and staffers of different faiths and from different parts of the country and world deal with their grief? And what is life like for those enduring post-traumatic stress disorder related to an event of this magnitude?

3) In the wake of the shooting, The Michigan Daily published a story on a University of Michigan alumnus– and a past graduate of Sandy Hook– who has raised more than $100,000 for the Sandy Hook Parent-Teacher-Student Association. As he told the Daily, “I immediately started this fund within like 20 minutes of finding out that this had happened, in order to try to pool some financial resources to help these families heal.”

The Daily‘s focus on his act of kindness is an appropriate complement to the larger coverage of murder, mental illness, and guns. It is also a nice way to spotlight at least a sliver of positive news amid the tragedy.

Follow the Daily‘s lead by exploring the charitable and volunteer efforts carried out by individuals and groups at your school connected to Sandy Hook– and to other, perhaps more local, tragedies that have recently occurred.

4) Due to the enormity of their presence in Newtown and their endless stories dissecting various aspects of the shooting, the news media have inserted themselves into the Sandy Hook narrative– and prompted an impassioned public response.

As Calvin College junior Ryan Struyk writes for the Chimes student newspaper, “People on Facebook, Twitter and blogs have sounded off against these journalists, calling them insensitive and heartless, while calling the work they do intrusive and unnecessary.”

But in his view, the journalists’ work– while at times intrusive– is necessary and can bring about needed catharsis, conversation and change.  In his words, “[A]s I watch the coverage, I see parents willing to struggle to find words for the immense loss they feel. I see children trying to share their pain with a world that feels the brokenness of sin daily. I see [the press] reaching out for support from politicians, charities, and Christians across the country. I see them sparking a critical and much-needed conversation on gun control in America. I see them willing to do anything to make sure this never happens again. How could we not tell this story?”

Gauge the reactions of students and staff at your school about the post-shooting media coverage, possibly both in the immediate and long-term aftermaths. Determine whether they noticed a difference in the content or quality of the coverage provided by local and national outlets and among those in print, on TV and online.

5) The last idea is perhaps the most obvious– and most necessary– candidate for related coverage. As Molly Stazzone, news editor of The Impact at New York’s Mercy College, writes, “Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Colorado Cinema, and now Sandy Hook School in Newtown. What do all of these places have in common? These places and their communities have been destroyed by massive shoot-outs from deranged gunman [sic]. . . . For me the problem is gun control.”

Whether considered a problem or a solution by various factions of the public, it is fair to say gun control is a front-and-center issue that will undoubtedly spur high-profile debate throughout 2013.

From a reporting perspective, suss out the post-Sandy-Hook opinions of student gun owners and gun-control advocates.  Observe the activities of campus and community pro-gun and pro-gun-control groups. Check in on the campus concealed-carry weapons debate. And investigate and share the gun control stances and voting records of local and state legislators.

In addition, search for connections between your school and guns.  For example, as The Daily Californian has uncovered, “Through its retirement plan, the University of California has invested millions of dollars in the manufacturer of the assault rifle used in the shootings at Sandy Hook.”

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