Eli Saslow Gun violence Interviewing Sandy Hook Elementary School school shootings tech

Insight from the other side of the notebook

Mark Barden, the father of Daniel Barden, who was one of 20 first-graders killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Mark Barden, the daddy of Daniel Barden, who was one among 20 first-graders killed within the 2012 mass capturing at Sandy Hook Elementary Faculty in Newtown, Connecticut.
Courtesy of Mark Barden

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Mass shootings have turn out to be a tragic American story. Faculty shootings are an especially searing chapter in that narrative. This week marks the 20th anniversary of Columbine, a high school in Colorado where 13 college students have been shot to demise. Additionally this week, the South Florida Sun Sentinel gained the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service — thought-about the gold medal of the Pulitzers — for its extended coverage of final yr’s shootings at a highschool in Parkland, Florida, where 17 individuals have been killed. Journalist and instructor Matt Tullis went back to a page in that chapter to hear from the mother and father who get caught within the glare of stories protection whilst they are coping with unimaginable loss.


As host of Gangrey: The Podcast, I’ve interviewed scores of reporters who’ve coated events so tragic as to be unimaginable. Amongst them: John Woodrow Cox about his deadline story for the Tampa Bay Occasions about an infant who drowned in the family swimming pool; Kim Cross about her ebook “What Stands within the Storm,” based mostly on interviews with families who misplaced family members within the 2011 tornadoes that devastated Alabama; and Pulitzer winner Lane DeGregory, who has a portfolio of heartbreaking stories beneath her byline, including that of 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck, whose father dropped her from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge into Tampa Bay.

In those conversations, I get to ask what all journalists marvel: How do reporters get entry to reluctant topics? How do they get individuals to speak about such intimate and painful occasions? And the way do they weave that materials into compelling, relatable tales?

Three years ago, I moved to Newtown, Connecticut, for a educating job at Fairfield College. Newtown, in case you don’t keep in mind, is residence to Sandy Hook Elementary Faculty, which is house to the December 2012 shootings that left 20 youngsters and 6 adult employees members lifeless.

Yearly because the shootings, I’ve made it a ritual to read “Into the Lonely Quiet,” the elegiac piece Eli Saslow wrote for the Washington Submit six months after the tragedy. However after touchdown in Newtown — I actually have a Sandy Hook tackle — I found myself reading Saslow’s piece in another way than I had up to now. Before, I all the time questioned how Saslow, the journalist, did what he did. Now I questioned how the Bardens, one of the households devastated that day, did what they did: Permit Saslow into their lives so he might then relay their pain to the world.

I’ve spent a lot of my profession as a journalist and journalism educator fascinated with the reporter. Now I find myself enthusiastic about the themes. What is the story course of like for them, and what can they inform us to make that process better for everyone involved?

That interest was already keen, however intensified last month when information broke of the suicide of Jeremy Richman, father of Sandy Hook first-grader Avielle Richman. Another tragic demise. One other event that set off a brand new flood of TV cameras, ringing telephones and unimaginable questions.

So I reached out to Saslow to speak about his reporting process once more, and in addition to Newtown mother and father Mark Barden and Nicole Hockley to hear their aspect of the story. All have been beneficiant with their time and candor — especially Barden and Hockley, since I needed to request a second interview after my recorder failed in the course of the first. I additionally included elements of the interviews in a Gangrey podcast.


Mark Barden doesn’t recall rather a lot concerning the days Saslow spent together with his family. That was in late spring of 2013, when Newton residents have been approaching the six-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings. Mark’s son, Daniel, was among the many 20 first-graders killed.

“I keep in mind feeling very snug with him,” Barden stated of Saslow. “He was approachable and accessible. He managed to take that very deep and personal dive to get that compelling story he did with out seeming to be prying or getting all into our personal enterprise.”

In the instant wake of the shootings, the Bardens and other grieving mother and father had been pressed for interviews on a near-daily basis. Some reporters hid outdoors the victims’ houses, ready for a change in police shifts so they might cost ahead to ring doorbells in quest of a remark. When mother and father did agree to talk, the interviews have been typically one-and-done: the reporter showed up — with pocket book, microphone, digital camera or all three — then shortly left to file a narrative.

That wasn’t the case with Saslow. The Bardens, due to their very own reporting course of, knew that getting into.

“The reporting is totally different, however our motivation to do it has been the identical in that we understood the worth in telling the story,” Barden informed me. “So we approached each media request with the same vetting process.”

That course of involved the household exploring two key questions: Is that this individual going to do justice to the story? And will the story encourage individuals to take subsequent steps, in whatever ways that means to them?

Saslow was vouched for by a public relations official from Washington, D.C. who had been working with Sandy Hook households, and by the power of his earlier work. So the Bardens agreed to offer him access in a means they hadn’t earlier than, allowing Saslow to be with them 12 hours a day for so long as every week, or extra if needed.

“We felt this was definitely a chance for average People to have a window into the devastation and the way this impacts a family,” Barden stated. “We simply felt there was such necessary worth in that.”

Eli Saslow of the Washington Post

Eli Saslow of the Washington Publish

However this is the place it will get tough. The Bardens and other Sandy Hook households who have spoken publicly have their very own agenda; they need to inspire motion in quite a lot of areas, including the failures in America’s insurance policies in the direction of accountable gun use and how psychological well being issues are related with mass shootings. In order that they open their lives to journalists, understanding that they gained’t have a say within the ultimate story. And the reporters — the great ones — strategy these families respectfully and with an open thoughts, however with the information that they write not for the story subjects, however for a broad viewers.

That dilemma, stated Saslow, is among the most challenging things concerning the sort of journalism he does. He’s not solely written concerning the Barden household, but profiled the veteran security guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Faculty in Parkland, Florida, who was vilified for not dashing into the varsity as 17 have been shot to demise. He wrote the aftermath of a block that ended in the dying of a highschool soccer player. And he wrote a few struggling survivor of the 2015 capturing at Umpqua Group School in Oregon.

“One of many issues that’s most troublesome for me as a reporter, and I feel for a lot of us, is recognizing who we’re writing for, even in these actually intimate, messy, troublesome stories,” Saslow informed me. “We aren’t writing the stories for the people who they’re about. And if, in the long run, we start writing them for the folks that they’re about, that corrupts the journalism.”

This consciousness is what makes “Into the Lonely Quiet” such a tremendous work of narrative journalism, and what makes Saslow’s work value learning. The story is devastating, and doesn’t shy from the tough actuality of lives ripped apart by such loss. Contemplate this paragraph that captures collective and individual grief:

There have been 26 of them in all — 26 victims, which meant 26 households left adrift, greedy for a solution to continue on. Some found it in church, returning to the pews each Wednesday and Sunday with a Sandy Hook Bible group, lighting 26 candles every time they went. Others found it within the religious medium that contacted victims’ families on Fb, providing to facilitate a personal seance and “join them with the other aspect.” Some started nonprofit foundations in their youngster’s identify or escaped again into jobs in Manhattan or ordered wine by the case or planted 26 timber or thought-about shifting out of state or installed blackout curtains for privacy. One mom took a job sorting corporate donations to the Newtown group fund, organizing 26,000 bottles of “Sandy Hook Green” nail polish and a couple of,600 wool blankets, because the magnitude of the donations helped reaffirm the magnitude of her loss.


Despite Barden’s complimentary phrases about Saslow, that rawness is what he and some other Sandy Hook families discovered discomfiting about his piece.

“I simply felt it didn’t depict Mark and his family and the loving and supporting network that that they had,” Nicole Hockley advised me. “It didn’t give a sense of hope.”

Hockley’s son, Dylan, was killed in the shootings. She and Barden are both founders and managing directors of Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit created to guard youngsters from gun violence and help gun safety reforms. She also seems in “Into the Lonely Quiet,” as Saslow accompanied her, the Bardens and another dad or mum on a trip to Delaware, the place the mother and father spoke with legislators about gun legal guidelines.

Sandy Hook households had been schooled by professionals and expertise on easy methods to deliver efficient messages. By no means show rage or brokenness, but categorical grief in ways that have been “resolute, well mannered, purposeful and factual.” Never argue for “gun management,” but for “gun duty.” Through the visit, the mother and father have been introduced for a moment of silence, then watched as lawmakers handed movement after motion, including one recognizing the winner of the state peach pie eating context. Saslow was capable of show that disconnect between realities — that of the households and that of public coverage — and the way stark it was to the Hockley and the Bardens:

How was it, they questioned, that government might roll via its inconsequential day by day agenda but then stall for months on a problem like gun management?

And in one other passage:

The unsure path between a raw, four-minute bloodbath and U.S. policy was a months-long grind that consisted of selling campaigns, fundraisers and public relations consultants.


The depth of loss and discouragement is woven throughout Saslow’s piece. And true as it is, it is something Hockley, and perhaps some others, wished had been much less outstanding.

“It was a really sad piece,” Hockley stated. “I had needed something that pulls individuals by means of that loop of despair, however then brings them out the other aspect. For me, it just type of left individuals hanging. It was superbly, superbly written, but I assumed it was very depressing.”

(Full disclosure: I’ve gotten to know Hockley during the last yr, as I’ve carried out some fundraising for Dylan’s Wings of Change, a foundation created in memory of her son.)

Hockley even stated she prefers doing stay broadcast interviews, the place she will management the point of the story.

The story is, certainly, sad. My very own youngsters have been starting elementary faculty when Sandy Hook was attacked, and I couldn’t learn the protection at first. Even Saslow, who has three youngsters stated that if it have been about his youngsters, he “couldn’t bear to read it.”

He starts with Daniel Barden looking bins for the best photograph of Daniel to be put in Mother’s Day playing cards and sent to politicians across the country. When his wife asks if he thinks it’ll make a distinction, he says merely: “I don’t know.” The piece ends in “the worst hour of the day,” which Mark and Jackie had once spent alone with Daniel after the older youngsters had left for college and he waited to race to his own faculty bus.

The varsity bus came. The varsity bus went.

“What do you need to do?” Mark requested, and in that second, the answer to both of them was clear.

“What can we do?” Jackie stated.

“Nothing,” Mark stated, and he sank down subsequent to her on the sofa.


First-grader Daniel Barden on the school bus. Each morning after his older siblings left for school, Daniel would spend an hour with his parents, then race out to catch his school bus. He was among 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, 2012.

First-grader Daniel Barden on the varsity bus. Every morning after his older siblings left for college, Daniel would spend an hour together with his mother and father, then race out to catch his faculty bus. He was amongst 20 youngsters killed at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, 2012.
Courtesy of Mark Barden

And yet Barden and Hockley think about Saslow as one of many good journalists they’ve handled in the last six years. The Sandy Hook mother and father maintain an inventory of journalists to whom they gained’t speak with because of how they’ve been treated, and an inventory of those they’ll. Saslow is on the latter listing. He’s the type, they stated, who comes in not together with his personal agenda, and never with a aim of simply asking questions that may make them cry, but who needs to do his greatest to know their actuality.


Saslow spent a few week with the Bardens in 2013. He confirmed up at their house early within the morning, just as the household’s two older youngsters have been preparing for college. He stayed all day long, not leaving till the Bardens have been going to bed.

Mark Barden remembers Saslow hanging out on the finish of the driveway together with his daughter Natalie and her associates, where the women had arrange a lemonade stand. He remembers Saslow being with him and his wife Jackie at a diner in what, to me, is probably the most heartbreaking scene in Saslow’s narrative. The Bardens had made the uncommon determination to exit for breakfast, and they also drove to a restaurant nine miles out of city because, as Saslow writes: “There were no reminiscences here.” All was good till one other family walked in, there to rejoice the 7th birthday of their son, who went to Sandy Hook Elementary but had survived the capturing as a result of he was assigned to the other of two first-grade lecture rooms. The two units of oldsters exchanged awkward greetings, then turned again to their very own lives.

“Should we depart?” Jackie stated, whispering to Mark, once the mother was out of earshot. “Wouldn’t it be simpler?”

“It could be,” Mark stated.

But as an alternative they sat at the desk and watched as the waiter introduced the boy a big waffle coated in powdered sugar, berries and whipped cream. They watched because the waiter caught a candle into the middle of that waffle, and as the mother sang “Pleased Birthday” and took a picture together with her telephone. They watched as the boy swept his fingers via the whipped cream, smearing it throughout his mouth and face while his mother laughed. “You’re so foolish,” she stated.


Barden knew he and his family have been making a sacrifice by letting the Washington Publish into their residence for such an extended time period. They have been fortunate that the reporter who was there knew they have been making that sacrifice.

“The actual risks and the actual sacrifices are taken by the individuals we’re writing about,” Saslow stated. “It’s an excellent scary thing to allow a reporter into your life, understanding that you’re going to haven’t any say over the result. And I might guess that the rationale that most people do it is because additionally they understand that what they’re coping with, what they’re going by means of, is necessary indirectly and is worthy of being seen and felt by individuals outdoors the home.”

“But,” Saslow continued, “to be prepared to make yourself that weak and to bear that ache and that harm to a stranger who’s going to be in your home for 12 hours a day, that’s a very courageous thing to do. That’s not straightforward.”

Daniel Barden, age 4.

Daniel Barden, age four.
Courtesy of Mark Barden

No, it’s not straightforward. Barden will inform you that. However in the long run, the Bardens and Saslow all had the same aim: To point out the world what it’s wish to lose a young baby to a mass shooter. Saslow’s observations on that dark reality simply ended up being even darker than some had hoped.

“How does an atypical American family who has been visited by such horrible tragedy handle this and deal with this on a daily day-to-day that folks can relate to?” Barden stated of what his family needed to get throughout. “And that’s where we noticed the actual worth. It’s sort of this unsaid message of, ‘Here it’s. This could possibly be you. That is what it seems like.’”


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