The news business is tight-knit.
While I may not be in it any more, countless friends and former co-workers still are. And we’re hurting right now. At least I am.
The murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward are disturbing. All violent crimes are—or should be. But what happened in Virginia was different. It was perverse.
Vester Flanagan II plotted against and stalked his victims. He timed his strike to have as large an audience as possible. And he celebrated his crime by uploading a grotesque, first-person video. He forced us all to bear witness to his madness.
Many of us in news have worked with or known a Vester Flanagan. A colleague who was difficult. Short-tempered and ego driven. Arrogant. Someone’s whose temper and obstinance made us physically uncomfortable. And many of us have watched these coworkers led from the building on their last day. Like Vester, they were gone—but not by his or her own choosing.
But all of us have worked with an Alison Parker or Adam Ward, too. An anchor who was willing to let themselves be the butt of a joke and support young colleagues. A photographer who always knew when to make a well-timed (and often inappropriate) comment to lighten the mood. A reporter who took song requests before live shots to ease the pre-show jitters.
By all accounts, Alison and Adam were a fun-loving, kind, and gracious reporter and photographer duo. Their WDBJ co-workers say both brought a spark to the newsroom. And those of us who have spent long hours in a newsroom understand how badly positive energy is needed.
That’s because covering news is hard and unforgiving.
I worked brutal hours for terrible pay, missing countless birthdays and weddings. I spent holidays huddled over police scanners. I listened to grisly 911 calls too graphic to air and dissected autopsy reports—at times those of children—for newsworthy nuggets. I saw, read, and listened to things that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
But the Alisons and Adams always brought badly needed levity to the stress of a newsroom. They made the long days and low bank account balances worth it. They provided laughs and encouragement. They made work fun, and their loss stings.
It also raises tough questions.
The shooting in Virginia demands hard follow-ups, not only of investigators and policy makers but of ourselves. We live in a society where murder is now followed in real-time. People “liked” and “favorited” an execution as it unfolded on social media. We watched another senseless act—two more lives taken from us too soon—and not all of us looked away in disgust.
What does that say about us?