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Terry Eberle
Terry Eberle

Reports jumped off the news wires that shots were being fired at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. Within moments of the first bulletin, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, grandfathers and grandmothers headed to the school.

These were rescuers, parents and police. They were also journalists. They were there to cover the story, to find the facts and tell people across the country what was going on. Millions turned on televisions, read newspapers and scanned websites, their smartphones and their tablets.

You saw person after person on the TV looking stone-faced, acting without passion and coldly reporting that 26 people at the school were killed. They were trained not to let their emotions find their way into their reports. They were trained not to get emotional and to deal with what they learned and what they were told.

On the outside, they may have looked calm and impassionate, but I can tell you that on the inside their stomachs ached, their knees shook and they wanted to be home hugging their child. They are human.

I have been in the news-gathering business for four decades. I have never, and hope to never, cover anything as terrible as the massacre of elementary schoolchildren.

I have been part of teams that covered hurricanes, tornadoes and blizzards where people have died. One of my newspapers covered a jetliner crash the killed more than 300 of our neighbors. All were terrible tragedies and all stayed with the journalists for weeks, months and years.

When you are caught up in the moment, you rely on your training and instincts. At that moment you must be focused. As the hours and days pass, you rely on experience and adrenalin. Then you collapse.

I was in Indianapolis when 9/11 happened. All our journalists were professional and did their jobs to cover the major national tragedy and the local events. At night they went home and cried, like every other American. The next day they were back at it.

I canít imagine what it must be like for the family of those innocent children and teachers gunned down too early in life. I am not trying to say a journalistís pain is nearly as bad. I am saying that they are touched, like you, by tragedy.

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Most are not unfeeling robots looking for the big story to sensationalize. Most would rather be anywhere than at the scene of something so terrible. Our mission is to bring you breaking news. And we constantly discuss the ethics of how we cover our people and community.

Do the media spend too much time on the story? Maybe. Do the media invade peopleís privacy at this very private time? Maybe. Did the media report bad information? Definitely. Should they have confirmed the information before reporting it? Without question.

Do viewers and readers want every detail? Yes. To some, it may be part of their grieving process. To others, they just want to know everything.

I get discouraged watching the herd of journalists run to press conferences, make mistakes and stick microphones in the face of shocked people.

This time, however, I saw some subtle differences. There were no cameras in the faces of the parents as they gathered to listen to President Obama on Sunday.

There were no journalists asking questions and pushing cameras in the faces of people as the first young children were laid to rest. They shot from a distance with a long lens respecting the privacy of a breaking news event.

I donít know how much is too much. I donít know that magic moment when we must move on to something else.

I do know that showing a little emotion is not necessarily a bad thing for a journalist. I do know that we can show some feelings and still be objective reporters.

I do know as technology changes the world becomes a smaller place with instant coverage. We must do our jobs, but we need to let people know we have children, parents and loved ones. It may not be so terrible to show that side of journalism once in a while.

Terry Eberle is executive editor of The News-Press. Email him at teberle@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @terryeberle.

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