Six Months After Shooting, Newtown Paper Tries To Move Forward

The Newtown, Conn., school shooting last December prompted the local weekly paper to publish its first special edition ever. But the Newtown Bee's staff has made a conscious decision not to commemorate the six-month anniversary of the shooting. The decision is part of their struggle to cover a continuing tragedy while trying to move forward as journalists, and as members of the community.

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Last year on December 14, the front page of the weekly newspaper in Newtown, Connecticut, was peppered with the usual stories: holiday preparations, school budget troubles. That same morning, the community changed forever. Today marks six months since the shootings that left 20 children and six educators dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And for journalists at the Newtown Bee, June 14 is just another day in a community struggling to move forward. Neena Satija of member station WNPR has that story.

NEENA SATIJA, BYLINE: As summer approaches, Eliza Hallabeck has been busy covering what any education reporter would cover this time of year: graduation.

ELIZA HALLABECK: The school year's coming to a close and kids are getting ready for that and teachers getting ready for that and big end-of-the-year projects, that kind of thing, the thing that happens every June.

SATIJA: Hallabeck's been focused on school concerts, budget problems and Board of Education meetings. But she also writes constantly about something she never expected to be a part of her beat: memorials. All sorts of memorials.

HALLABECK: The Newtown High School art club created a mosaic. A couple weeks ago, it was finished: green ribbon and then little individual images of the favorite things of all of the people who died on that day.

SATIJA: It's not easy for Hallabeck, who lives in the neighborhood of Sandy Hook and covered a concert at the school just two days before the shooting. But it's her job to report the news. And this is what's happening in Newtown.

HALLABECK: I just keep going day to day. You know, there are stories that come up every year, stories that are just typical education stories and then stories like the sky dive - skydiving event that are new this year.

SATIJA: Covering memorials is a part of reflecting what many people here call the new normal. Editor Curtiss Clark says the staff never discussed special coverage to observe what happened six months ago. They've been doing it all along.

CURTISS CLARK: It's not something that you revisit or oh, yes, let's remember. It was six months ago. This is something that everybody's been thinking about every day, since that day.

SATIJA: Clark says what happened in Newtown has become so much more than just a story of loss and grief. The Bee's readers want to hear about the generosity that's poured into their town. They want to hear about gifts of money, of therapy dogs, free massages, or just heartfelt letters. They also want to know what's going on this weekend and how their kids' sports teams are doing. Yet even these routine assignments manage to remind reporters of the tragedy. John Voket is an associate editor at the Bee.

JOHN VOKET: Well, once in a while I'll get caught off guard by someone making a comment.

SATIJA: It happens so often that he doesn't keep track. He'll be talking about something unrelated with a town official or a police officer, and something the person says will trigger a memory of that day.

VOKET: I'll catch myself, you know, having, like, a little wave of sadness or remorse, and then I'll just kind of take a breath and refocus.

SATIJA: And that may be the biggest challenge for this community newspaper. The Bee's job is to reflect what's happening in a community that's in mourning. As Voket sees it, that means chronicling something unimaginable.

VOKET: How do you begin a journey toward a positive feeling when 20 first-graders and six educators got horribly, horribly murdered? No guide book, no rule book, no road map.

SATIJA: So for the staff at The Newtown Bee, this day is another day for a community that's been transformed by loss, and another day for them to move forward. For NPR News, I'm Neena Satija.

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