A journalist for The Dallas Morning News has released an open letter to residents of Sutherland Springs, Texas, apologizing for a media presence in the wake of the Nov. 5 mass shooting that she found over-the-top and inappropriate.
Reporter Lauren McGaughy recalled how she and dozens of other reporters “descended” on the small town in the hours and days after the shooting, and lamented the climate and scenario that developed as a result.
“It was an invasion. It was too much,” McGaughy wrote. “At the prayer vigil Sunday night, mourners clutching candles hugged each other and sobbed. The pictures were beautiful. What you didn’t see was the scrum engulfing your friends and loved ones, photographers and reporters with iPhones jockeying to capture an image that didn’t also include the media melee.”
She continued, “I kept thinking there should be — there must be — a better way to cover a tragedy like this.”
McGaughy said that the town is so small with its 600 residents and “three square blocks of modest homes without so much as a stoplight” that the situation simply “should have been treated with more care,” especially considering that almost everyone in town knows someone who was lost or personally affected by the carnage.
The reporter admitted that she momentarily felt triumphant at moments due to getting the story first, but soon started to feel disgusted — and she shared her views with other reporters and many of them agreed.
“I was absolutely overwhelmed in Sutherland Springs. I was sickened,” she said. “I can’t imagine how you, a grieving community, must have felt. You’re more than a hashtag.”
In the end, while McGaughy said events like the shooting at First Baptist Church are certainly worthy of coverage, she believes that journalists must have a conversation about balancing that responsibility with “empathy and…humanity.” She believes the press can “do better” and said that the believes the “media horde” owes victims an apology.
Read McGaughy’s letter in its entirety here.