TV station balances grief, journalism after on-air shooting

WDBJ7 general manager Jeff Marks speaks to the media outside of their offices in Roanoke, Va., Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. Vester Lee Flanagan opened fire during a live on-air interview for WDBJ7, killing two journalists Wednesday. (Erica Yoon/The Roanoke Times via AP) LOCAL STATIONS OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LOCAL PRINT OUT (SALEM TIMES REGISTER; FINCASTLE HERALD; CHRISTIANSBURG NEWS MESSENGER; RADFORD NEWS JOURNAL; ROANOKE STAR SENTINEL; MANDATORY CREDIT MAGS OUT; NO SALES
WDBJ7 general manager Jeff Marks speaks to the media outside of their offices in Roanoke, Va., Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. Vester Lee Flanagan opened fire during a live on-air interview for WDBJ7, killing two journalists Wednesday. (Erica Yoon/The Roanoke Times via AP) LOCAL STATIONS OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LOCAL PRINT OUT (SALEM TIMES REGISTER; FINCASTLE HERALD; CHRISTIANSBURG NEWS MESSENGER; RADFORD NEWS JOURNAL; ROANOKE STAR SENTINEL; MANDATORY CREDIT MAGS OUT; NO SALES

Alison Parker and Adam Ward’s colleagues at TV station WDBJ saved their tears for off the air.

The news became personal for the CBS affiliate in Virginia when reporter Parker and cameraman Ward were fatally shot during a live broadcast Wednesday, forcing co-workers to balance the stunning tragedy with professionalism.

Their grief was evident during the newscasts that followed, but so was their restraint.

“This is a hard day for all of us here at WDBJ7. We are mourning Alison and Adam, but it is our job to find the facts,” anchorwoman Melissa Ganoa said during the 5 p.m. EDT newscast, less than 12 hours after the shooting by a fired station employee, Vester Flanagan, who died later of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

What unfolded was familiar to any TV viewer: A recounting of the crime; news conferences with updates from authorities, and reaction from those who knew the victims. A third person, a local chamber of commerce executive who was being interviewed by Parker, was shot and wounded.

The station in Virginia’s Roanoke-Lynchburg media market, however, left it other outlets to dwell on the footage from WDBJ’s unwitting broadcast of the shooting and, in a bleakly modern twist, apparent “selfie” video posted online by the alleged gunman.

An estimated 40,000 viewers saw it unfold live, untold numbers watched it afterward. The station received calls for interview requests from media outlets in Russia and Australia, among others.

“We are choosing not to run the video of that (the shooting) right now because, frankly, we don’t need to see it again. And our staff doesn’t need to see it again,” Jeffrey Marks, WDBJ’s president and general manager, said on air soon afterward. “But we will do full reporting on it later. Our teams are working on it right now, through the tears.”

In sometimes shaky voices, Marks, reporters and anchors shared tender memories of Parker, 24, and Ward, 27, as kind friends and dedicated colleagues. They also provided sketchy details of the shooting. Then Marks, his hair disheveled but his emotions in check, put a stop to it, at least in those early, freshly painful moments.

“We should probably go back to regular programming now, rather than prolonging this. But rest assured, we’ll come back on the air as more information becomes available,” he said.

In an age when video of crashes, shootings, fires and other tragedies is readily available and endlessly replayed, it was a decision – albeit it one influenced by personal loss – that other outlets often fail to make and for which they are roundly criticized.

WDBJ news director Kelly Zuber was asked in an interview whether the station planned to air the selfie video. In it, a hand holding a gun is seen behind Ward for several seconds and then squeezes off shots at Parker.

“At this point we don’t,” she said Wednesday evening. “We’ll review that as we go. It’s pretty raw right now in our newsroom. And we will continue to process the journalism, and if that piece of video is important to what we do, we’ll include it. But for right now, no. No.”

Lee Wolverton, managing editor of The Roanoke Times, expressed the newspaper’s sympathy for the victims and its intention to provide complete coverage. The paper’s website Wednesday night included a screen grab of WDBJ’s broadcast of the attack, labeled with a viewer warning, but not the selfie video.

“We recognize how important this story is in the life of our community and have strived to deliver the same kind of fullness and context we seek in every story,” Wolverton said in an emailed response, adding that the Times’ reporting would be thorough and presented in “a manner appropriate for the circumstances.”

___

Elber wrote from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer John Raby contributed to this report from Roanoke, Virginia.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

WKBN 27 First News provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. No links will be permitted. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s