Working in the news, we get a lot of flak.
We don’t give your candidate enough coverage, we only focus on the other party. We make human errors and typos, and mess up our live shots. Our hair isn’t put together, and our voice tracks are weird.
Believe me, we’ve all heard a lot worse.
A recent comment I’ve been hearing a lot of, is that media is “glorifying” mass shootings – focusing our coverage on the latest gunmen to open fire on a school, church, concert or outdoor venue, racking up the next largest number of victims we’ve seen.
However biased I may be, I believe we need this coverage. We need to know what’s happening, in order to understand a way to stop it.
And something I truly wish could come out of this all – would be some understanding for how the media handles the coverage of these tragic and heartbreaking events.
I’ve been working in local news since I graduated college in May of 2015. Looking back on my less than three years in the industry, I’d already forgotten half of the mass shootings I’ve covered. That’s how many there have been.
Before my time in news, they’re a little easier to pinpoint.
The first one that sticks out in my brain is the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting. I was 18-years-old, and ironically working at a movie theater at the time. All hands were on deck, for the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises,” and let me tell you – it was packed. Too busy pouring sodas and buttering popcorn, I didn’t have a chance to look at my cell phone, and realize people who were in my same situation, a few states over, were being killed by a gunman.
The next day, my 16-screen movie theater in Madison, Wisconsin was empty. What we anticipated to be the largest showing of the summer was a ghost town. I even ended up going home early; there just weren’t enough customers to serve. That was the first time.
Months later, another. Heading home for winter break my sophomore year of college, I cried silent tears, listening to the radio reports of the children killed in the Sandy Hook shooting. I couldn’t imagine how these people felt. States away, this still hit me like a ton of bricks. At just 19-years-old, I knew this was a problem.
After that, I stopped. Tuned out. Shut down. I couldn’t handle much more. I wasn’t strong enough to hear about all the mass shootings.
Little did I know, I would eventually spend my life’s work covering them.
I cannot forget the first mass shooting I covered in the news industry. At the time, I was an overnight producer in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I arrived to work at about 10:00 p.m. Friday night, to find hundreds killed, and even more injured, in a series of attacks in Paris, France.
I spent the night pouring over interviews and video clips, of people recounting the tragedy. Sound bites of people crying filled my hour-long morning show, highlighting each location where suicide bombers had set up, and where they opened fire afterward.
Emergency sirens echoed through my head, as I made my way home that morning – when it was finally time to let myself break. I bawled into my pillow, thinking of the people my age, attending a concert in a city I had once visited.
It could have been me who was killed. It could have been me, hiding under a stranger’s body, pretending to be dead already. It could have been me, watching my boyfriend die in my arms.
When working toward a newscast, there’s no time to stop for tears. I waited until I got home to break down, and didn’t break let myself break again. With news like this, there’s no time to stop and feel.
As mass attacks followed, I quickly learned how to cover them.
Next up, the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting. The gunman’s mugshot engraved in my brain, as I wrote script after script, detailing the tragic events.
Not even a week later, it was time to move on to another shooting. This time, in San Bernardino, California.
By now, I had become an autopilot, writing scripts like a robot.
“THE FBI SAYS SAYED FAROOK AND TASHFEEN MALIK — THE HUSBAND AND WIFE BEHIND THE SHOOTING — WERE RADICALIZED EVEN BEFORE THEY EVEN MET.”
“OFFICIALS SAY 24-YEAR-OLD ENRIQUE MARQUEZ CONFESSED TO GIVING THE FAROOK AND MALIK TWO RIFLES USED IN THE ATTACKS THAT KILLED 14 PEOPLE.”
On and on it goes, until another – Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Uber shooter.
Then another overnight attack, this time in Brussels, Belgium.
That prepared me for yet another overnight attack, this time much closer to home, at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Still producing overnight weekends in Green Bay, Wisconsin, news of the Orlando shooting didn’t come down until about 5:00 a.m. CST, just one hour before my first morning show. ABC News broke in with a special report, and suddenly my “slow news” day changed – and I was scrambling to get as many Orlando details into my new shows as possible.
This is another example of how one working in news cannot take time to break.
You, the viewer, at home on your couch, need to know that something has happened. You need to hear the latest tragedy. It is my responsibility to explain to you what is happening, so that you have the time to feel. You have the time to break. You get to feel the emotion.
It is my job to make you feel. I’m not saying it’s my responsibility to make you feel unsafe in your daily life, or to make you depressed or saddened by world events. But it is my responsibility to let you know what happened. And from there, we as a world, can act accordingly.
By the time the Orlando shooting happened, and those that followed, the July 2016 police officer attack in Dallas, Texas, and the truck attack in Nice, France, I was numb. I didn’t have feelings.
I pushed away the thought that summers before, I was at that same beach in Nice where the attack happened. I saw what those people saw. I stood where they stood.
After Dallas, I didn’t cry tears for my best friend who is a police officer. I didn’t wonder, “What if it was her? What is she was working in Dallas at the time?”
I’m telling you: I can’t think these things. If I think these things, I can’t do my job. If I truly consider how terrible the events are that I am writing about – I will not be okay. During, before or after work. I will never be okay again.
This mentality gave me a false sense of security. This past summer, I was traveling overseas, during the London Bridge attack. I was in Ireland at the time, but had planned to visit London just days later.
Visiting with two other friends, one a news producer and another a “normal” person, there was a split in feelings. Brooke, my friend who was celebrating her graduate school graduation, said we should cancel our trip to London altogether. Being in Dublin was close enough.
Danielle, my news producer, and I were upset we weren’t in London at the time. We were so trained to gather the latest information, that being within reach of a global attack didn’t faze us. We felt we weren’t close enough.
It only started to irk me when Facebook asked me to check-in, saying I was “safe” during the London Bridge attack. But it didn’t scare me enough not to visit London, and its bridge, just three days later.
Things changed when I became a reporter, and I had to localize these kind of stories firsthand.
You know – whenever a tragedy happens, your local news station finds someone from your area who was there at the time, as a way to make it relatable to you while watching the story.
Back when I was a producer, I just listed the facts, and relied on the national media to do the interviews. Now as a reporter, it was my job to do that.
The first experience I had with this was the October 2017 shooting at a concert in Las Vegas. After the shooting, it was my job to reach out to people who were there at the time. I had a phone interview with several people, some still in Las Vegas at the time, explaining to me what happened.
“It was scary to just be crouching there, and like a person would walk by, and every movement I assumed was a shooter. I was hoping that I was disappeared enough into the wall that nobody noticed me there,” one woman told me, who was in a nearby hotel at the time.
She said she knew she needed to leave Las Vegas right away, and boarded the quickest plane she could find.
“The airline attendant, she just noticed that something was wrong with me. And she said, ‘Are you okay?’ and I said, ‘I’m not.’ And she brought me to the front of the plane and she hugged me. And that just felt — like I didn’t feel real.”
I was so happy I was interviewing this woman via the phone, so she couldn’t hear me cry as she spoke. I didn’t want to let myself break, but it happened. Hearing first hand from a woman who saw it all. It hurt.
Later on, I interviewed a Green Bay Police officer, who used his police training to bring himself and his friends to safety during the concert shooting.
“Then the music cut. And that’s when the second round of shots that came out, that I knew that something wasn’t right,” he told me. “As we started to turn, to kind of go, people … At that point you could see people start to fall. ‘They’re shooting at us,’ comments like that. ‘Who’s shooting?’ And then the cries for help started coming out after that.”
It was different this time, because these were real people to me. People who I could see, touch, feel. People who knew my area, and felt close to me.
I know the others are real too, but I can’t think that way. It’s so far off, I can’t connect myself. Now that I am hearing it face-to-face, it becomes a whole different story.
With the latest tragedy, the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, my assignments were to cover school safety, and police presence nearby.
One week to the day of the shooting, I was outside Green Bay West High School, giving a live report about a shooting threat that had caused lockdowns in the area. And suddenly, it was close to home again.
Weeks later, it’s still what I’m covering. And likely will continue to be, until something else happens.
That’s the worst part: we know something else will happen. And one day, it will strike much closer to home than I’d like. One day, I’ll have to break down again.
The point of this all is to simply say: we in the media hate this too. This is a terrible thing to have to cover. Yes, we get excited at breaking news, and making our live hits clean on air – but it’s not about that.
It is difficult for us to see such tragedy strike, in such a preventable way. For me, I sometimes feel inhuman, that I can’t let myself focus too much on these shootings or attacks. If I put my heart and soul into this type of story, I wouldn’t be left with any heart or soul when I finished. It’s just too hard.
I just want to say, on behalf of the media, this is not something we like to cover. This is not something we want to happen. This is not something we enjoy. It honestly may be more difficult for us to have to deal with this type of story, knowing that another one is just around the corner, and we must keep composure as our viewers break down. We are being strong for you.
But know, deep down, this hits us just as hard as it hits you. And we’re hoping just as much, that this time will be the last.