For almost four years I worked as a reporter for a small weekly newspaper. Actually, the only reporter/photographer and as such I covered events of every kind. Although it was a small, rural town that looked like Mayberry, I came to learn that there was a side to the town that was anything but innocent.
There were many, many times that I felt uneasy at my job. Just like other journalists, I worked late hours alone in a dark building. I traveled to remote locations for interviews, sometimes not knowing who or what would greet me at the door. I showed up on-scene at fires, car wrecks, and crime scenes as often as I was at a city council meeting or football game.
I dreaded the winter most because the dark came early and there were constantly basketball games and after-hour events. High school parking lots are terrifying when you are a woman alone. None of them are well-lit despite the fact that there are basketball games several nights each week in the very darkest months of November and December.
When I was covering an event, I felt on display in front of everyone who was there. It is a tool of the trade to become invisible and not be a part of the action. Most people don't notice journalists as they do their job, but you never do really know who notices you. Your back is almost always to the crowd when you are facing the action.
Everywhere I went people knew me and, whether I knew them or not, didn't hesitate to come up and talk to me. Sometimes it was good. Sometimes they yelled at me and berated me. I once had two baseball moms say horrible things about me and my work while sitting only two rows behind me at the ball park. It was as if I wasn't a real person with real feelings. I was also yelled at while in WalMart getting groceries, and grabbed by the arm during a high school band concert. People called me on my personal cell phone on weekends and holidays to bitch at me for something they didn't like.
Many times, people felt the need to drag my personal life in and put it on display. Never in my 30+ years of working had I ever had someone go to my boss about something I did in my personal time. I really didn't know how to deal with it. People tried to get me fired over my personal beliefs, or because I didn't write a story that would give them free publicity. One person in particular asked my boss to fire me on three different occasions for completely bullshit reasons that I think had less to do with me than who he wanted to be my replacement.
Hearing all this, it might sound like I hated that job. The fact is I did not. I loved being a reporter more than any job I've had. I felt like I made a difference. I felt happy when I could tell someone's story to the community, or bring attention to a problem or success. I loved going to the elementary school and being treated like a rock star (kids love having their pictures made). I enjoyed knowing what was going on in the community and being able to participate.
Journalism is a powerful thing and particularly for those on television, journalists become a part of people's lives. The community feels comfortable with people they see on a daily basis, and I think that is why they are so comfortable with approaching a reporter with anything that upsets them. When I left Nashville I was shocked at how much I missed the newscasters on Channel 5 bringing me the news every day.
Yesterday morning I happened to be at home and on my computer. A breaking news alarm went off on my phone and I read the message about two journalists being killed. I shook my head and thought, "Oh, no."
When I scrolled down to read the story I saw that this happened in our own country, on American soil, and (horrifyingly) to a reporter and cameraman who were live, on the air, reporting a story. It took my breath.
"no no no no no no nooooo"
I am still aghast at the fact that I was literally watching the killer live Tweet post-shooting. I was watching when the video went up on his feed. I shivered as I watched (yes, I watched it) him aim the camera, aim the gun, and stand behind the cameraman for what seemed like an eternity (actually was 15-20 seconds) while the interview played out to its horrifying conclusion.
As I scrolled down through his feed, I saw that he posted dozens of photos in the week leading up to the shooting, a sort of unsettling, self-aggrandizing scrapbook. It was as if he wanted to make sure he was remembered. It was as if he didn't think killing two people in an on-air interview would do the trick. There were photos and videos from his modeling "career" and his high school prom. It was, to me, sad and pathetic and arrogant all at the same time.
My heart aches for the families of these two people, who were simply out there doing their job and bringing the news home for their viewers. I hurt for all their co-workers and the audience members who had to witness this on live TV. I can't even imagine.
I write all this just to say one simple thing. Reporters, journalists, photographers, they are in the public eye to be sure. They are people just like you and me, working long hours for not a lot of pay usually. They are many times up before the dawn and more often out way past dark. They act brave because they have to, even when they might be going into a dangerous situation. That does not mean they are fearless. It never occurred to me that while I was standing in front of that crowd of people someone could pull out a gun and start shooting. I am pretty sure it didn't occur to these people either.
Journalists are public servants. They do all of this, particularly those on a local level, to bring the news home to the people in their community. They are the neutral party. They do it to keep the politicians on their toes and the taxpayer's money under scrutiny. They do it to bring happiness to people with feel good stories, and warnings of danger when necessary. They do not expect to be gunned down on the job.
Rest in peace, Allison and Adam. And peace to all those affected by your death.