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Making Sense of the Sandy Hook 911 Tapes


Agreeing to an Associated Press request,  Connecticut authorities have released the 911 tapes of calls made to the police on Dec. 14, 2012, the day a gunman shot and killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Some people want to hear them. Some don't.

But the real question is do they really add anything to the reporting on this tragedy?

Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's "Sense-Making Project" said yes, they do.

"Our job as journalists is to hold authorities accountable," McBride explained. "When you listen to the tapes you can discern how the dispatchers are handling their jobs... how well the police did when they showed up on the scene. They also give the public a further glimpse into what happened."

But is that why the media pursues these tapes, or is it because they want to sell papers and draw viewers and listeners?

In the age of the internet, that's a tough call.

McBride said, "the reality is today journalists are no longer the gatekeepers. These tapes were released to everyone, which means that anyone can put them up on the internet. And many people are. So journalists now have to decide, as I serve my audience, how do I do that in a way that is most responsible? But I do not want to be patronizing and be in the position of telling my audience, no I'm not going to let you see this information or hear this information simply because I might have some qualms about it."

McBride said she sees nothing wrong with choosing not to listen to the tapes, but for people who do want to hear them, she has a suggestion.

"I actually found listening to them without any other information really confusing," she said. "I would recommend that you go to a website -- The Hartford Courant, the New Haven Register-- they did really good stories that help explain what's actually happening in the tapes. I don't think children should be listening to these tapes. Anyone under the age of 14 or 15 -- this is really disturbing and hard to comprehend."

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