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Shooting of two young journalists on live television in Virginia rattles newsrooms across the country

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ROANOKE, Virginia — Live shots are not supposed to end with shots fired.

Wednesday morning’s murder of two journalists on live television is causing heartache and anxiety in newsrooms across the country. It is also causing a difficult reassessment of the security concerns surrounding a staple of TV news: live reports from remote locations.

While there hasn’t been a widespread pullback in live shots, and experts say there won’t be, there have been anecdotal reports of stations electing to halt or limit them for the time being.

Alison Parker, Adam Ward

Alison Parker, Adam Ward

Alison Parker and Adam Ward were broadcasting live on WDBJ, the CBS affiliate in Roanoke, Virginia, when ex-colleague Vester Flanagan shot and killed them.

Notwithstanding a “news must go on” mentality, some TV newsrooms were deeply shaken by the attack because there was a sense that it could have happened to any news crew.

“As I head out the door to my 10:00 liveshot, I can put myself in Alison’s shoes,” Alexis Zotos, a reporter on KMOV in St. Louis, blogged the night of the shooting.

Zotos and other journalists described a sense of uneasiness in the wake of the attack, which many of them had to cover.

Sensing this uneasiness, station managers have consulted with local police departments and sent consoling messages to staffers with reminders about counselor availability. (I received one of those messages here at CNN.)

In several markets, including Boston and Indianapolis, officers stopped by newsrooms.

“Thank you,” WTHR news director Kathy Hostetter tweeted to the Indianapolis police for visiting “to offer support” on Wednesday. “It meant a lot to all of us on a very difficult day.”

In Polk County, Florida, Sheriff Grady Judd offered to provide deputies to accompany journalists on live shots, even if the journalists were covering his department.

“In 40 years I can’t recall a police chief or sheriff ever saying something quite like that,” veteran TV reporter Dave Statter said in an email.

Safety concerns are nothing new for TV crews. Criminals have interrupted live shots, confronted reporters and stolen their equipment in the past. Journalists do sometimes take precautions on risky assignments and, in rare instances like riots, security personnel do accompany crews.

But analysts could not recall the explicit broadcast of murders in the United States before.

“It’s clear the killer was intentionally using live programming as a platform — and live shots are inherently less controlled environments,” said Jeff Halliday, a TV sports anchor and reporter turned professor in Virginia.

He said the shooting had affected the “psyche” of reporters this week by reminding them how exposed they are.

The lights, camera and oftentimes a boxy transmission truck all contribute to a feeling of vulnerability.

Every reporter has stories of interruptions, usually from fans or pranksters. Jaye Watson, a reporter at WXIA in Atlanta, referred to Parker when she blogged this:

“I have been her, hundreds of times in 23 years, ignoring the person I see walking up out of the corner of my eye. I cannot look at or be distracted by the passersby, the lookie loos or the rabble rousers, because I am on live television. But I see you. And I hope that you let me finish my live report before you do whatever it is you’ve walked up to do.”

Crews sometimes have a truck operator, someone who transmits the live pictures and doubles as a spotter. WGN Chicago reporter Randi Belisomo recalled many times when the operator has “run interference” and even shoved people out of the way when necessary.

But with newsrooms “saving money, cutting staff and doing more with less, the third crew member is becoming rarer and rarer,” she said.

Some reporters even broadcast live by themselves without a photojournalist. Matt Blanchette, a TV reporter for a decade who changed careers last month, called this a “troubling trend.”

“I would watch former colleagues do door knocks on criminals’ homes alone, then be asked to go out live in the area of a shooting, alone,” he said.

As a practical matter, enhanced security during run-of-the-mill live reports is unlikely. Statter, who covered crime and other stories in the Washington area for decades, said it is “not realistic at all.”

Global Post CEO Phil Balboni told The Boston Globe that “it’s impractical to be able to do it without a radical change in the way news stations operate.”

1 Comment

  • Frank J Spotorno

    To whom it may concern,

    Two years ago I suggested regulations for controlling gun violence in America throughout our Communities. I have written to the media and many political leaders. Until this day, no one had gotten back to me. Here is a repeat of what I said.

    Some has taken fold though since I’ve written it.

    Shortly after the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, I wrote an article suggesting regulations for gun control in America soon after the wake of shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, CT.

    After reading an article (facebook) from actor/comedian Chris Rock @ the time mentioning we do not need gun control but rather bullet control @ a suggested cost of $5,000.00 a bullet, reason being; “cause if a bullet cost five thousand dollars there would be no more innocent bystanders”.

    Also, after a week of sitting on the sidelines, the National Rifle Association has held a press conference on the Sandy Hook shootings. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, spoke Friday in Washington, D.C., advocating for “armed police officers in every single school in this nation” on the theory that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
    The real culprit in the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., said LaPierre, was not high-powered rifles but “monsters” like Adam Lanza and the problematic media they consumed, especially “vicious, violent video games.”

    If that’s Chris Rock and the National Rifle Association their best solution controlling gun violence in America,
    sadly I am at a lost of words of their intellectuality.

    Since the horrific shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School including Friday night rampage thru the City of Santa Barbara, our elected officials have yet come up with a sound solution in controlling gun violence in America.

    Being I am a member of the Exchange Club in Yonkers, NY, I am reaching out to you to published these ideas with the possibility that they may be implemented into law thru legislation.

    Currently, the estimated total number of guns held by civilians in the United States is 270,000,000 (270 million)

    What do we do with this amount of firepower already in the hands of Americans?

    How do we determined who is good and who is bad?

    Soon after the wake of shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, CT, thousands of gun enthusiasts were flocking to gun shops, purchasing high powered assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

    Since the shooting at the a Sandy Hook Elementary School, many political leaders were rushing to put into legislation banning high powered assault weapons, which I am in favor for.

    Besides being asleep at the wheel for allowing manufacturing and industry leaving our homeland, regrettable they are asleep when it comes to thousands of Americans who fall victims every year to gun violence all across America.

    Our elected officials are elected not only for our well being, but more importantly our concerns, interest, hardships, triumphs and safety.

    Sadly, the parents of those children massacred @ Sandy Hook Elementary School will not be able to see their children’s triumphs.

    We need political leaders, community leaders, religious leaders, law enforcements with concrete solutions in controlling gun violence throughout America, and in our communities.

    The 2nd Amendment wasn’t written for gun enthusiasts, those who hunt, those who participate @ shooting ranges, but to secure ones freedom from an oppressed form of government.

    Currently, thousands of weapons may be in the hands of unstable individuals.

    I am certain Chris Rock and Wayne LaPierre walk among the not so fortunate with “armed guards”. Both are comedians, perhaps both should look into careers as clowns or puppeteers.

    Amendment II
    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    Their are 27 Amendments in the Bill of Rights. If we should take away any of our rights, then a downward turn in freedom will start to manifest into a society of imperialism. Our forefathers broke away from the Crown of England for Ones Freedom.

    As I am noticing what is happening in our Country, and seeing how our Nation has regressed; Poverty, crime, robberies, unemployment, and now young children being massacred, while thousands of Americans (30,000) fall victims every year from gun violence, perhaps it’s time to add an Amendment to our Constitution.

    Possible 28 Amendment:……
    “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not infringe on ones property nor especially Ones Life.”

    Suggested Regulations For Controlling Gun Violence In America!

    1) Permits / licenses must be obtain for all firearms, granted and approved by each State of the Union of the “residing candidate” before any firearm is sold at any and all gun shops or gun shows.

    2) Full comprehensive background check of each individual over the age of 21, including but not limited too mental illness, proceeded with physician approval being mentally sound before possessing any firearm.

    3) A minimum three (3) month waiting period before any permits or license is issued from each State of the Union.

    4) During the three (3) month waiting period, candidate wanting to qualify in obtaining gun permits / licenses must undergo a full comprehensive 10 hour safety course in handling and securing firearms in households.

    5) Every year or two a background check insuring individual capability in possessing firearms.

    6) No children or child under the age of 17 allowed to participate at any gun ranges.

    7) 17-21 year olds must be accompanied by an experience / license guardian / instructor to participate at any shooting range.

    8) Every (3) years permits / licenses must be renewed, along with a current back ground check, proceeded with physician approval being mentally sound, followed with a 6 hour continuing safety course program in handling and securing firearms.

    9) Ban all assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

    10) federally monitored oversight
    agency securing all license / permits identification on a national data base.

    PS:…….
    If you have to be 18 or older to purchase cigarettes, 21 or older to purchase alcohol, I guess to we can apply these rules concerning gun regulations.

    We are in dire times which requires serious resolutions with people of sound mind.

    Frank J. Spotorno
    Yonkers, NY

    Originally written December 22nd., 2012

    Redraft May 25th., 2014

    Sent from my iPhone

    Frank J Spotorno
    Park Avenue Elevator Designs, Inc.
    18-60 42nd. Street
    Astoria, NY, 11105
    Tel: 718-545-5110
    Fax: 718-545-5117

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