WDBJ shootings: Numb about sums it up

parker wardAlison Parker and Adam Ward woke up this morning, way too early this morning, if you ask me, since they worked the morning news shift at WDBJ, looking forward to a picturesque drive to Smith Mountain Lake.

They weren’t in a war zone, not covering a riot, a live murder scene.

If you work in the news media, you’ve done these kinds of pieces, millions of times. I’ve been a print and Internet reporter – and occasional radio and TV contributor – for 20 years. Done my share of fluff pieces, no war zones, no riots, no murder scenes, some investigative journalism that got a little hairy sometimes, but never feared for my life for doing my job.

I know people who did sign up for that brand of journalism. The world needs them, but I decided long ago that the world didn’t need me doing that stuff.

Live TV and radio, war zones or not, are fraught with a special brand of peril, of the sort that involves that you make sure to say the name of the person you’re interviewing right, basically. Anybody who’s been the point person on a live broadcast knows the feeling of terror that goes through your head moments before it’s time to go live. It has to do with not wanting to look or sound like a blithering idiot to a live audience.

You almost never do, of course, but that fear, it’s always there.

You get so much into the zone, like an athlete playing in front of a live crowd, that you literally can’t see or think anything else but what you’re doing right in that moment.

You are very much in your own world in that moment. Get the name right. Get the facts about what the story you’re presenting right.

Diction. Poise.

Look good, sound good.

Facebook friends have commented about how odd it was that Parker and Ward didn’t seem to acknowledge the presence of a man walking down a ramp toward where they were interviewing a local chamber of commerce official for a fluff piece on the anniversary of a shopping center.

If you’ve seen the unedited video posted online by the shooter, a former WDBJ reporter who was known on air as Bryce Williams, real name Vester Flanagan – and if you haven’t, don’t look for it, because it will scar you – but if you’ve seen it, he is maybe a foot away from Ward holding the camera.

He points the gun at Parker, maybe two feet away, then adjusts his own camera to get a better shot. To his right, Ward is panning his camera across Smith Mountain Lake as Parker continues her interview.

Maybe 10 seconds pass. Flanagan is waiting for Ward to get Parker and Vicki Garder, who is being interviewed, back into the live shot.

Even then, for a split-second, before he starts shooting, he is unnoticed.

He knew he wouldn’t be noticed. He’s been on that side of the camera. He knows that they can’t see beyond the fourth wall.

– Column by Chris Graham


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