Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Break

Today, I finally reached a point I had hoped I might escape.

I'm still working the story on the shooting in Newtown, Conn. I just concluded my fourth full day of work, my fifth in the state.

These full days have been running, at the least, twelve hours, sometimes fifteen hours or more, while immersed in the story of what horrific things unfolded last Friday.

Each day, I've had something different to cover, none much easier than the other in terms of difficulty, in terms of skill or emotion.

Since I've had so many different tasks, I've kept my editor at home informed of what's been going on with the coverage, what I've been slated for, just to let her know what The Mercury might want to use for their own coverage of the event.

I'd kept myself together throughout this. Some hadn't. I've heard of a few people losing it a little. Some are amazed they're still okay. The mix of intense work and the intense sadness here is a formula for a breakdown.

At one point yesterday or the day before (time has ceased to exist here), me and the crew of remarkably talented and dedicated journalists in our satellite newsroom discussed when this all became "real" for them.

Some said it was hearing the reports of how many were killed. Others talked about driving into the town and seeing the makeshift memorials.

Mine came Saturday. When the authorities announced, officially, the list of names of those killed, I was sent to the park where the press briefing was held to retrieve a physical copy of the list.

I grabbed it and began driving back to our satellite newsroom with it. At a stoplight, I picked the list up and glanced down at the names on it.

The list included birth dates and I began noticing how many names had "2005" or "2006" in the DOB column. My hand suddenly felt numb and the list slipped from my fingers into the wheel well of the passenger side of my car.

The difficulty of witnessing some things and talking to some people is something I'll probably never encounter again. But I've kept it together.

This morning, as I was filling in my editor on the day's "budget" of stories, she told me about a story involving one victim that was local to our coverage area. She mentioned the child's name.

I replied that I remembered the name, began to say that I thought I'd been assigned the student at one point, then realized it wasn't one of the six or so I'd been assigned to do over the first few days.

I thought I remembered another person doing the profile.

"He did that person," I said. "I think he did. I think, but I'm not sure because there..."

Suddenly, it felt like all the breath had been sucked from my lungs and I physically couldn't speak.

I was going to say, "I'm not sure because there were so many." And in that moment, just hearing my mind say it and trying to speak those words, I suddenly felt paralyzed by grief.

I'd been afraid of reaching the breaking point for days. We've been immersed in such terrible sorrow day in and out that it was always a threat and, suddenly, on the phone with my home paper's editor, I was completely ambushed.

She thought she'd been cut off from my line, or that I'd broken up.

"I said we just each worked a lot," I finished lamely.

There is a lot of backlash to us being in Newtown right now. I can't put myself in the shoes of the people here, but from what I've gathered from the criticisms and anger vocalized at us, many think we're just trying to capitalize on a sensational news story, that each painful interview is just a feather in our cap.

But from what I've witnessed from others with me who have worked so hard and from what I felt myself this morning when I finally ran into a wall, we're here because we feel telling what happened is indescribably important. In the same breath, I can say we all are affected very deeply by this, we care very much for those it touched, and we truly wish that this all never happened.


  1. Frank, thank you for giving us dome sense of how hard it is for you and all the other journalists to do your job. I wish, as well, that you never had to write the story of this terrible tragedy. My thoughts are with you.

  2. Thanks Frank for you honest and touching coverage of such a horrible event. Come home soon. :')

  3. This is so honest and well-written, Frank, and, I think, so important for you to have written -- both to get the story that's inside of you out, and to help people understand why doing good journalism at a time like this is both vital and very, very hard. Be well.
    -Scott Blanchard, Sunday editor, York Daily Record/Sunday News

  4. You are human and have justified speak for any and all that have witnessed this horrific ordeal. Through written expression you reenforce that we have a shared view that hopefully will help to heal what some have hidden in them and are unable to express. Thank you for your dedication. Merry Christmas and let the season heal you and all.

  5. Frank,
    I live in Sandy Hook and I speak for many residents when I tell you that we understand the need for the press to be here. I have found you all to be incredibly respectful and understanding in our time of sorrow. Without your coverage the world would not know or story and the outpouring of love and support from across the world would not exist. I am so touched by this support that it has helped to heal my broken heart.
    Thank you Frank.
    May you have a peaceful Christmas.

    Dorothy Werden
    Sandy Hook, CT

  6. Dear Frank,
    As a longtime reporter I have covered horrific "death stories" but never of this magnitude. Now as an editor at a desk, building pages of sad photos and reading miles of copy you're all filing, there's no way to say how much respect and admiration I have for you all. At some point, your shutoff valve - the one that keeps you just a little bit distant from the reality of the story you're writing, so you can try and be objective, bursts open and you have to feel. It's awful, but it's human. I'm inspired by the comments from most people in Newtown who simply say they're grateful.
    You will be OK as long as you keep talking about it and sharing it with your co-workers, and encourage them to do the same. We are not made of stone.

  7. Nice job, Frank -- and nice working with you. I covered the funeral of a beautiful little six-year-old girl today. Watched the mourners from another kid's funeral mass walk out of the church before we all walked in. Listened to story after story -- and heard people crying all around me. Saddest thing ever. You'd have to be made of stone not to feel the pain of it. We're flesh and blood -- all of us -- and everyone I've talked to about it is feeling it. God bless everyone affected by this -- and thanks, Frank, for coming out to cover it with us.

  8. Frank, a well-written post; and congratulations on being selected for the assignment. It says a great deal about what someone else thinks of your character and your reporting abilities.

  9. Good luck. You guys have a hard job, I could never to it!

  10. Thank you Frank for reminding us that the reporters that are trying to get this tragedy out to the public also are human, with human feelings and pain. I had forgotten that reporters were also human and do not do the job to intrude upon the tragedy.

  11. A real journalist never, ever makes the story about themselves. Reporting under difficult and trying circumstances is the job. We know it's tough, but imagine how tough it is for these families. This is not about you, Frank, and it should never be about you.

  12. Frank, thank you for the courage and humanity to share your feelings with such honesty on your blog. I think it helps all of us who are not journalists to better understand your job. I also think it will help make you an even better writer and journalist. A prior commenter noted that journalists never make the story about themselves. I am not sure what prompted that comment since this is your blog and not a piece of reporting for the Mercury. The comments from Sandy Hook residents indicate you have been doing your job for the Mercury with absolute professionalism. I would expect so, given that you are able to so beautifully express your feelings here.