I don’t think it’s a stretch to say domestic broadcast journalism lost its innocence or sense of invincibility Wednesday.
The live on-air murders of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward looked like something you could expect in the war-ravaged Middle East. But it happened on our soil. Before 7 am. In what apparently was a relatively safe, peaceful area.
What happened Wednesday near Roanoke, Va., was on one level about as incomprehensible an act as you can imagine. On another level, though, this is a thoroughly unnerving sign of our times, from the shooter’s live social media feed to the rambling manifesto claiming the perpetrator was really the victim to the suicide.
Being in news for almost 20 years and leading KVOE’s news department for almost five years now, this really has me shaken. The shooter was a disgruntled former employee. That statement alone should be enough for anybody in management to review his or her dealings with current or past employees to make sure those interactions were fair and honorable.
Besides that, though, we as journalists are out and about in our respective communities a lot. We cover everything, from murders and standoffs to zoning meetings and Chamber of Commerce features. We have our guard up when we go to certain events but we may not have it up with others like the features we do. This may force us as reporters, photographers, cameramen and others “in the field” to be on constant alert at all times.
And because we are coming to you in your cars, your cubicles or your showers, we aren’t off the job just because we are off the air. Talking about a story we wrote earlier in the day or what we said about our favorite sports teams last week with acquaintances or total strangers comes with the job. It’s a part of the job we accept, some of us willingly, others grudgingly.
Overseas journalists, especially those in the aforementioned “hot spots” on our globe, accept the personal safety risks that come with making sure people know what happened. They also know in general terms what subjects could put them in the crosshairs.
Honestly, I never thought I’d have to think those risks would be in place in America. They officially are, and to a degree they are more insidious because, as was blasted into our consciousness Wednesday, we have no idea who may be approaching us with bad intent, waiting like a predatory cat, gun in one hand, cell phone in the other.