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Reporter shooting bring back memories of reporting in W.Va., Safety was never an issue

By John Dahlia, Editor
Preston County News & Journal

I’ve been at odds with my emotions the last few days. Certainly all of us have been following the horrible shooting of the two broadcast journalists in Virginia on Wednesday morning. The shooting occurred at 6:45 a.m. in Moneta during a live interview on television station WDBJ-7. TV reporter Alison Parker, 24, and videographer Adam Ward, 27, were both killed.

The circumstances and certainly the motives of the gunman, who killed himself a few hours later, are tragic beyond words. But when the media began interviewing the friends and coworkers of the young victims, I was reminded of the years I spent at WDTV in Bridgeport.

Many know I first came to W.Va. after being hired as a TV reporter more than 20 years ago. I, like, so many young broadcast journalists, traveled many miles from home to a strange and new place. I met and worked with amazing people. We were close; brother and sister close. We worked all hours of the day and night and on every single holiday. We worked and waited in courtrooms and government hallways. We celebrated when we broke a story or beat our competition (which happened often I have to admit). We held each other through those lonely, dark moments after the broadcast news was over and we had a second to comprehend what we had just accomplished.

But we never feared for our lives. Not one time, during all those crazy, gritty, wonderful years did any of us imagine someone, anyone wanted to do us harm. The closest I ever came to feeling fear was while working as a TV reporter was in early August 1993.

More than 17,000 coal miners, most of whom worked in W.Va., were on strike since May. Tension between union miners and coal operators was at a boiling point. I was asked to do a story about violence on the picket lines, which entailed showing a side to the strike no one had seen before. When the piece aired on the news, a lot of people were angry. I was threatened, but I never believed anyone would try and hurt me. About the worst that had occurred was getting an earful from an angry and frustrated coal miner. That altercation was recorded and ended up as the lead story that night. You can still watch it on YouTube.

Later, I traded my reporter’s camera and microphone for a newsroom office when I was hired as news director at WDTV. Now I was hiring the future broadcast journalists of America and I was the one asking them to work a little harder and longer every single day.

Times had changed, but the work of the young broadcast journalist in W.Va. remained the same. They still had to gather the news as quickly as possible, put it all together before 5 p.m. and look “picture perfect” at the same time. There is truly no profession as difficult. Many want in, but few make it beyond a dream and a video resume.

But never did I suspect or worry the great ones like Sunshine Wiles, Heidi York, Scott Snider, Jake Glance, Jessica Ralston, Heather Warner and so many more could face a horrible end while doing the jobs that defined them. Maybe I lived in denial.

There is an expression, coined by former CBS News anchorman Dan Rather that could sum up exactly what every young newsy is all about. “The camera never blinks,” Rather wrote and used as the title of his autobiography. It’s true. Many of us understand the feeling you get when peering through a tiny video camera’s viewfinder. It’s a powerful, almost superhuman emotion. If I had to guess, I believe videographer Adam Ward felt it on Wednesday morning. Despite being shot, most likely multiple times, he turned his camera to get a live glimpse of the gunman.

I pray for Alison Parker and Adam Ward, their families, co-workers and friends. But I’m also praying for every young and not-so-young journalist working at this very moment bringing you and me the news.

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