Shattering The Quiet

I was one of the reporters who converged on the peaceful Pennsylvania countryside after the shooting of 10 Amish girls. When there's a tragedy, journalists struggle to report what happened while still respecting the feelings of a grieving family. But as a hundred news trucks choked the small roads, the contest between public interest and privacy was thrown into high relief. The Amish boarded up the schoolhouse windows to keep our greedy eyes from the space where their children had been lost. Reporters from across the nation stood in a row for their stand-ups with the school behind them, providing a nice backdrop for the evening news.

The Amish desire to live simply, apart from modern society, has always had real integrity. It's not as if they courted media attention and then complained, like Tom and Katie, when the scrutiny got to be too much. They build the windows in their schools high enough to keep tourists from taking pictures. So throughout that week, I had to fight an unfamiliar instinct for a reporter: to leave these people alone. I settled on a method of going through a third person--a volunteer who worked with Amish people at the local fire station, for example--to see if any Amish wanted to talk (an approach that is usually more effective anyway). I heard that one reporter walked into a house while an Amish family was eating dinner. As revolted as I was by such a tactic, I wondered if perhaps she was a better journalist than I, willing to do anything to break news.