We are trained to be desensitized from the moment we walk into our first journalism class. I remember mine in particular, Ben Bogardus' 9:45 a.m. course on Tuesday and Thursday, first semester freshman year.
"In journalism, you are not part of the story," we were told, words resonating with me throughout the rest of my college days and into today. If you become part of the story, you hurt your integrity, we were taught. Journalism is a double-edged sword - if you display human emotion and empathize, you aren't being fair. If you don't, you're heartless and inhumane.
But what happened Wednesday morning with WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward breaks down all of those barriers. They became part of the story, involuntarily. Two journalists, in their 20s, murdered by a gutless, maniacal man. All while doing their job - telling stories.
In the journalism field, killings are unfortunately routine. They involve gang members, criminals, accidental shootings and "mentally-ill" figures. We are taught to treat all in the same, as it's part of the job, one requiring as little emotion as possible at times.
Yet the death of these two killed at work has made me more empathetic than I've ever been regarding a story, and based on social media response, has done the same for many within this industry. And perhaps their tragic deaths open up a new perspective for all of us as well.
As a news anchor sits in their chair tonight, they will report on the deaths of Parker and Ward. Then, they will move on, and likely speak of that gang member killed in Detroit, or the car accident that killed a family of four. And while they have been taught to treat one in the same, they will now be reporting on one of their own. Moreover, they will realize, that that gang member, the family of four, could also have been one of their own. Just like Alison and Adam, they were all human too.
I'm not sure I'll be able to look at this facet of the field the same ever again. This isn't the first time a journalist has been killed on the job, unfortunately, but perhaps the circumstances surrounding the spreading of the news has made it the most eye-opening for me. In the past, we have thought of people killed as a statistic, but to note these two as such seems wrong. And I'm not sure I'll ever mentally label anyone else as a statistic either now.
I won't sit here and act like I have 20 years of experience in journalism, and I'm sure some colleagues of mine will disagree with these words. But I will tell you I believe in the same principles these two did, like many of my friends out in Iowa, Wisconsin, Wyoming and elsewhere practicing the same craft they did. They were two reporters who told stories for a living, and died doing what they loved. And even in his grave state, Ward still managed to tell one last story, capturing an image of his murderer whilst hitting the ground, allowing officials to respond appropriately.
So thank you, Alison and Adam, for pursuing truth and telling stories. And while I never knew you, thank you for changing my perspective on everything we do.
My condolences to the families, friends and co-workers of those involved, including Vicki Gardner, the subject of the interview being conducted before the incident.