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Nataliya Schafer Headshot

A Special Sandy Hook News Bulletin for Children

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It's one thing to be a parent talking to your kids about the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting -- it's quite another to be a journalist writing a news story about it for them.

My job is to write safe, factual news for children. After watching several hours of news coverage of the Sandy Hook massacre, I had to ask myself (and my editor) "Should I write a story about this? How should I write a story about this?"

She told me to write an article with "No opinion -- just the facts," but initially I had no idea how I would do that.

I easily pumped out several stories about Hurricane Sandy nearly two months ago but this was the first time this job had really stumped me.

When it comes to writing stories for children, there is a great conflict between journalistic training and the instinct to protect them. How do I tell kids about unpleasant events not being unnecessarily graphic but making sure not to intentionally leave out key facts?

My audience is five- to 12-year-olds and somehow I had to write a story that wouldn't be too scary or grown-up.

Part of me wanted to write nothing at all out of fear of taking away a child's sense of security, being fully aware that there are plenty of parents out there that did not want their children to find out about Sandy Hook at all. But I'm a journalist, not a parent.

It is my journalistic duty to responsibly inform my audience, but at my job it is also my duty to protect them to some extent. When it came down to writing this story I had to try to make these two principles work together as best I could.

I reread one part of our mission statement before I began writing. "GoGoNews provides parents and educators with subject matter to start a conversation with children and a safe means by which to deal with the harsh realities of the world we live in." If this wasn't one of the world's harsh realities involving parents, educators, and children, I didn't know what was.

My task was daunting, but educators around the world, be they teachers or parents, needed a piece of non-fiction writing that they could use in their classroom or at their kitchen table to engage children in a conversation about mental-health, gun control, and school safety. This gave me my initial push.

Then I did some research. The Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma says, "When children are victims of violence, journalists have a responsibility to report the truth with compassion and sensitivity." This gave me my final push.

I bucked up, buckled down, and started writing. I wrote out all the details I knew about the shooting, and then started to narrow down the essential yet not too grim details.

Do children need to know that not everyone made it out alive? Yes

Do I need to tell them the ages of the 20 children who died? Probably not

I did not want to write that Lanza took his, his mother's, and 26 other people's lives, but I could hear my confused readers asking, "Where is he now? Is he in jail? Does his mom feel bad because the guns belonged to her?"

Next I had to try to find some teeny tiny shred of a silver lining in all of this. Gun control reform, discussions about mental-health, and how hard the teachers worked to protect their students were the obvious silver linings.

"All of the teachers in the school did what they were trained to do and hid their students in closets or locked the classroom doors and did their very best protect every one of their students," I wrote, feeling glad that I was able to slip some sort of reassurance into my article.

I made a point to emphasize that Lanza was "very sick," and to not follow in the footsteps of CNN reporters who said that he had "snapped" and "lost it." I wrote about Lanza's mental-health honestly, explaining what Asperger syndrome is and that it was not the source of his violent rampage.

When Obama announced that the White House will submit new gun-control proposals to Congress in January I went back and updated the story to include this news. I will continue to update the story and include any new teeny tiny silver linings I can find that will outshine the dark details.

Lots of parents probably don't like that a children's news website published a story on something so tragic, and I respect that. While I don't get to choose the news, I still get to choose how I report on it.

I can say that I am able to sleep soundly at night knowing that I wrote an article about the Sandy Hook shooting for children.

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