RIP: Tragedy in Virginia

Column by Breanna Sill, Features Editor

Heavy on my mind are the murders this week in Roanoke, Virginia.     The city’s ABC-affiliate news station lost two employees when a former colleague shot them point-blank while the reporter was live on the air.

Alison Parker, the reporter, and Adam Ward, a photographer for WDBJ died doing what they loved, but that doesn’t make their deaths any easier to stomach.

As a television production major, future broadcast news reporter and former news intern at a WTVF News Channel 5 in Nashville, Tennessee, I‘ve spent many days out doing liveshots in the field with reporters and photographers just like Parker and Ward.

I saw people treat the reporters I would accompany out on stories like celebrities. Everyone knew who they were and why they were there. People either had super nice things to say to them or they were angry with how the station covered a story. Nonetheless, their presence was always known.

It had dawned on me that maybe these people needed security, especially when the bystanders near the story were not particularly happy with the reporters.

However, another thought came to my mind along with that: if journalists are forced to tote a security detail to maintain their safety, how will that change the quality of news that they are able to report?

For example, if you watched CNN during the Ferguson, Missouri, protests, then you might have seen reporter Sara Sidner get hit with items, including a glass bottle, while on the scene.

Months later, the same reporter reported live from the Baltimore riots. This time, she had a full security detail to make sure her safety was assured.

Maintaining a safe working atmosphere is important for any job, but how will that impact the way a stories, like those in Ferguson and Baltimore, are told? 

Will reporters still be able to get the in-depth, live from the action shots from behind the back of their new bodyguards? Will that build a trust barrier between the reporters and those whose stories they’re seeking to tell?

What happened in Roanoke this week is a terrible, senseless act of violence that no one could have predicted.

I hope television news organizations keep the safety of their reporters and photographers in mind, but don’t jump to extremes in reaction to the situation.

Ward and Parker were covering a story about the anniversary of a local lake, for crying out loud. It’s not like they were on the frontlines of a riot.

While this may or may not be an isolated incident and safety should always be a priority, let’s remember why we do this job – to tell the story; up close and personal.