As journalists stood across from a mortuary watching a funeral for a child killed in the Uvalde school massacre, some people didn’t disguise their anger. “Y’all are the scum of the Earth,” said one woman. After mass killings, journalists are called upon to explain what happened, and sometimes to ask uncomfortable questions in places where many people want to be left alone to grieve. Tempers flared in Uvalde. One female journalist was told, “I hope your entire family dies in a massacre.” Some are threatened with arrest for trespassing while on public property. A group called “Guardians of the Children” blocked camera views, often with the encouragement of police, the Associated Press reports. Yet Ben Gonzalez approached reporters near the mortuary after hearing the woman lash out to say that she doesn’t speak for everyone. “Thank you for documenting this tragedy,” he said. “We’ll look back at the photos you take and appreciate it.”
The courthouse square in Uvalde has been dotted by canopies erected by TV news crews. Journalists have been stationed at Robb Elementary School, where the shooting took place, near a makeshift memorial piled with flowers, stuffed animals and messages. “I respect the wishes of people if they want me to leave,” said Guillermo Contreras of the San Antonio Express-News. “By the second day (after the shooting), the people were overwhelmed. The town has been overrun by reporters. There was pretty much nowhere you could go without running into the media.” “When you are at the epicenter of a situation like that, you really do need protection,” said Michele Gay, who lost her daughter Josephine in the Newtown, Ct., school shooting a decade ago. “You are really not in a state of mind to be offering your feelings in front of the camera.” The sensitivity that most journalists try to bring to such assignments can be undermined by those who stick cameras in the faces of people crying, or ask a grieving parent how it feels. Journalists do a poor job explaining what they do and a poor job putting themselves in the shoes of the people they are interviewing, many on the worst day of their lives, said Joy Mayer, a former journalism professor. Kelly McBride, an expert on journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, advises news organizations to prepare better when assigned to these stories. Most interviews on the street indicate this work hasn’t been done; people in shock and trauma, she said, shouldn’t have to make an on-the-spot decision about dealing with a reporter.