Numb with Disbelief: Newsrooms Feel Impact of WDBJ Shooting


The shooting of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and camera man Adam Ward during a routine live shot last week left the country speechless.  For journalists, particularly TV reporters who work daily in the field like Parker and Ward were, their brutal death was personal.

“Everyone was stuck,” says Indianapolis’ WISH-TV President and General Manager Les Vann, recalling the unusual stillness in the newsroom Wednesday when the news broke. “Newsrooms are noisy places, especially in the morning. It was silent.”

Vann, who’s managed stations in Cincinnati, Savannah, Ga. as well as in Illinois, Iowa, the Carolinas and New York, says news folks accept some risk with the job, but this event was unthinkable.

“Covering a natural disaster or a crime scene or civil unrest, yes, but you would never think you’re in danger standing in front of a lake in a serene setting doing a chamber of commerce story,” Vann says. “That’s what is so sobering about this.”

Numb with Disbelief

Broadcasters around the country were visibly numb.

“This is a TV reporter’s worst fear, especially for those of us one-person-band reporters,” said Nia Hamm, of News 12 Bronx and Brooklyn. She writes, reports, and shoots her own stories. Hamm must capture all angles of the story and watch her own back at the same time.

Veteran video photographer Tony Thompson knows all about that.

During Thompson’s 25-year career, he’s covered every type of live shot imaginable; he left the news business a couple of years ago. Today, he works for the A/V communications department for the city of Springfield, Ill., but the same rules apply.

“I’m always aware of my surroundings when shooting,” Thompson says. “Watch people’s body language. You never know.”

Reaction to the shooting permeated the entire media community, not just TV folks. Nationwide, #WeStandWithWDBJ photo and video tributes from newsrooms showed support for WDBJ. Many journalists posted TV bars on their social media pages to show solidarity.

Newsroom Safety

The senseless, cruel death of these young Virginia journalists has raised questions around newsroom security and operations.

“Probably every manager and every employee can think of a time someone was fired or a co-worker acted oddly,” says Douglas Fruehling, editor-in-chief of Washington Business Journal in DC. “So the question becomes, what do I do? What do I say?”

WISH’s Vann says he plans to work with its security company along with station employees, staff and the news director to determine the best course of action regarding station security.

“All of us need to re-look at our policies and producers about live shots and where and when we do them and whether it’s in our best interest to tell people ahead of time where our live shots are going to be,” he says. “We need to look at every aspect of how we operate the stations and the news department to make sure that safety is at the top of everyone’s mind.”

Moving Forward

Whether you work in media or not, losing one of your own on the job can leave longtime scars.

Life coach and motivational speaker Jerry Gladstone (@JerryGladstone) advises those who experience sudden and horrific loss to not isolate themselves and maintain a good support system of family and friends. It’s important to allow yourself to grieve.

“Get together with trusted co-workers and celebrate and remember the good times,” Gladstone suggests. “Comfort can also be found in giving love and support to the families of the person who was lost.”

Scholarship funds have been set up in honor of Alison Parker and Adam Warner by their respective alma maters. Please click on WDBJ here for more information on how you can give.

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Brett Simon is PR Newswire’s former director of audience relations and was a television reporter in her former life. Follow her @savsimon.

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