02/19/2013 10:29 am ET Updated Apr 21, 2013

What Now? Continuing the National Conversation After Newtown

I was on my way to a meeting when I heard the news from Newtown. When I first saw the images on the television screen, I couldn't help but think of my niece and nephew. I remembered when they were that age, and felt again the fierce, protective love that rose up each and every time I saw them walk out the front door to face the world. As the number of lives lost continued to rise, my heart dropped a bit heavier as the full weight of the tragedy was laid bare. I don't think that my reaction was that unique, or that notable, and of course, it is but a shadow of the sorrow that has touched the families of Newtown. And yet, I think that my reaction was universal. Each and every one of us thought of our own daughter, or grandson, or sister, or nephew, who could have been among the ones who lost their lives that day. Each of us wrestled with the question of "What if?"

And then, as the parade of funerals came to an end, and we laid to rest the last of the heroes and victims of that fatal day, "What if?" became "What now?" What can we do to prevent this sort of tragedy from happening again? This question was raised in dining rooms and community halls, churches and mosques, as we all struggled to make sense of how we could bear the weight of this burden to act.

Our public television community was no different. Across the spectrum, our producers and station general managers quickly came together to ask, "What now? What can we do?" I can't speak for everyone, but I think that each of us felt that by doing something, anything, we could help erase the terrible feeling of powerlessness that had come over us as we watched the tragedy unfold on our television screens. Of course, there is nothing that can be done that will undo the events of that day. But by using the platform of public television, we hoped that we could begin to contribute to the conversations that had been sparked by the sadness of Sandy Hook.

Working together across programs and stations, we quickly produced a special program, which ran only one week after the tragedy, to examine the questions raised by Newtown from as many different angles as possible. But as we know all too well, this is not the sort of question that can be answered in one night, or by just one television broadcast. The issues raised by this tragedy are far too complex for any easy answers. And so even as we were going to air with our special, as well as our ongoing coverage, we began discussions to create a full week of programming on PBS to try and shine even more light into this dark corner of our nation's history.

This week, we are ready to share the results of this effort with the nation. Our slate of programming will examine the topic from many different angles, and hopefully contribute to the dialogue and discussion around the issues raised by this tragedy. Programming on local PBS stations during the week will include nightly news reports from PBS NewsHour, a special collaboration between Frontline and The Hartford Courant, a science-based investigation on Nova, analysis of the issues on Washington Week, a special report on Need to Know and two independent documentaries. By bringing together some of our most talented producers, we hope that we can provide fresh and informative content that helps the American people engage in this most important of national conversations.

This special week of programming represents the many facets of this critically important issue. After Newtown: Guns in America explores the historical perspectives of our nation's relationship with firearms, offering a unique perspective on the ongoing national conversation about our right to bear arms. In an especially compelling Frontline report, there is an examination of Adam Lanza and his family. The Nova episode, "Mind of a Rampage Killer," looks at what we know about the brain that can help us understand these horrific tragedies. The Path to Violence details a powerfully effective Secret Service program -- the Safe School Initiative -- that has helped schools detect problem behavior. Need to Know looks back at earlier school shootings, to examine the ongoing effects this sort of tragedy has on families and communities, while Washington Week will offer a detailed look behind the scenes at the political debate going on in Washington today. And NewsHour will offer ongoing analysis of the tragedy in Newtown. With each of these programs, we hope to inspire and inform reasoned debate about these important issues.

Our public television stations feel a special burden to act in the wake of this tragedy. From small towns to big cities, and rural community colleges to statewide networks, our stations are as diverse as the communities they serve. And as we wrestle with the very serious issues raised by the tragedy in Newtown, I think that we can all agree on one thing: there is not just one solution to this problem, or one answer to the question of "What now?"

I know that we cannot erase the events of December 14th, or heal the hearts of the families who were devastated by this tragedy. But as a nation, we must come together to debate and discuss what should happen next. Our public television stations can help facilitate this conversation in communities across the country, so that we move forward as a nation. As aunts and uncles, and mothers and fathers, and neighbors and teachers, it's the least that we can do to honor the victims of Newtown.