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Lou Pickney's Online Commentary

Sadness in Virginia

Wednesday
August 26, 2015

This has been a difficult day for the television news industry, as this morning a reporter and her photojournalist at WDBJ in Roanoke, VA were shot and killed during a live morning show interview.

The woman who was being interviewed was also shot, but survived with what are described as non-life threatening injuries. The attacker, according to police, was formerly a reporter at the station, which makes what happened even more incomprehensible. He eventually took his own life a few hours later.

I've worked with a wide variety of people in the TV news business off and on going back to when I first broke into the biz in May 1997, and many of them shared their thoughts, and anguish, via Facebook and Twitter today. It made for some sad reading, particularly coming from people who are used to compartmentalizing their emotions while delivering tragic or difficult information.

Any time I had to send a reporter and/or a photog out to cover a story, I put thought into what they would be facing. Working on overnights as a news producer, you have to often wear several hats, including in many cases doubling as an assignment editor. There is an inherent danger to being out in the field, and I never wanted to send any of my teammates into a situation where there was sufficient reason to worry for their safety.

Unfortunately, news reporting often means having to go into unsavory parts of town where violent crime all too frequently happens. Mix into that the economic reality of stations shifting toward hiring one-man bands (a reporter who also shoots and edits his or her own video and sets up live shots without any help in the field) and the concern grows.

It's a fine line to walk, and there are no easy answers.

But what happened today in Virginia took place during one the most "safe" live shots you could do, a morning show interview with the head of a Chamber of Commerce on a non-controversial issue (tourism) without any weather concerns. It's the sort of thing you don't think twice about planning.

I've seen the videos of the shooting, both the live on-air feed from WDBJ and the video recorded by the attacker. I hope I never have to see them again. Any TV news reporter knows that you're at your most vulnerable during a live segment. And, unfortunately in this case, it appears that the killer used that knowledge in planning his attack.

It was especially horrifying to learn that the photog's fiancee was a producer at the station and was in the control room when it happened. Incredibly, this was scheduled to be her last day on the job. I couldn't fathom what she went through.

My condolences go out to the family, friends, and co-workers of the victims.


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