Worth Waiting to Read

The selection of magazines was rather slim at the Toyota dealership, where I took my car to be serviced Saturday.  Think sports, automotive, fashion, and home magazines with well-thumbed pages and torn covers.

I did find a copy of The New Yorker. The magazine was dated March 4, 2013, but I decided something inside would hold my attention for the time I’d be holed up in the waiting room. 

I lucked out with this story: Letter from Newtown, Local Story, A Community Newspaper Covers a National Tragedy. Rachel Aviv wrote how The Newtown Bee, a weekly paper, handled the tragic shooting that took place Dec. 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Suddenly, a community newspaper was thrust into a national tragedy of immense proportions.

Who can forget Shannon Hicks’ photo of a teacher leading a line of children from the school? The children hold onto each other. Their eyes are closed to spare them the awful sights of death.

I didn’t know the Bee, but I imagine the weekly contains stories about the local government, school events, crime, businesses, interesting people, you get the drift. But a story of this magnitude? Not until Sandy Hook.

My attention was heightened because I’ve worked at two community newspapers. The first was a daily in Massachusetts, where I started reporting on three small hill towns — each around a thousand people. One board trusted me enough to let me sit in — but not report —on its closed sessions. I recalled one member saying, “well, you’re going to end up writing about this anyway in the future.”

Firefighters allowed me across the line. I could ask a police or fire chief to phone me after a crime, fire or accident scene was cleared and he’d call me that night with the details.

People told me their stories, even sad ones, I’d like to believe, because they thought I’d get them right.

But covering hard news could be tricky in such close-knit communities. I remember going to the scene of a fatal motorcycle accident. The police hadn’t released the man’s name but I reported his foot stuck out from beneath the tarp covering his body. That upset people. I had crossed a line.

Sometimes news warranted outside attention. Reporters from big papers or TV descended on my towns. But, fortunately, nothing like Sandy Hook.

Now I am the managing editor of a weekly newspaper. I wanted our reporters to read Rachel Aviv’s story so I stuck the magazine in my bag. I didn’t think the dealership would miss a magazine that’s nearly a year old. But it contained a story worth waiting for me.