Reporters and video journalists enter danger every day of the week. War zones in Iraq and Syria. Covering the drug wars in Mexico. In Third World countries where governments see the news media and reporters as threats to their power and murder them in cold blood.
But a shopping center in Moneta, doing a live television interview with a local chamber of commerce official?
That’s not supposed to be the case. Community journalism is all about covering city councils or boards of supervisors or school boards. Features on the 108-year-old Sunday School teacher. Profiles of World War II veterans. And, yes, cute puppy and kitten stories from the local humane society.
But sadly ... shockingly ... that’s not what happened Wednesday morning. WDBJ reporter Alison Parker was interviewing Vicki Gardner, president of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, as cameraman Adam Ward filmed. Suddenly, shots rang out. Parker screams; the camera drops to the ground; and viewers next see a shocked anchor back in the studio.
Parker, 24, was a native of Martinsville who had moved back to the area to work for the Roanoke station as a morning reporter. In the last several months, she’d been dating a fellow reporter, and they had been talking about marriage. Ward, 27, was a graduate of Virginia Tech and an avid Hokie. He was engaged to a producer at the station who was in the control booth back in Roanoke as images of the shooting came in. Gardner, a long-time booster of the Smith Mountain Lake business community, underwent surgery for gunshot wounds at a Roanoke hospital and was in stable condition Wednesday afternoon.
This world is crazy and upside down some days. Police officers aren’t supposed to get gunned down when they pull over a speeder on a desolate highway. A teacher and her classroom of first-graders aren’t supposed to be massacred at their desks. And community broadcast journalists doing a story about a local chamber of commerce’s efforts to boost local businesses aren’t supposed to be shot to death, live on the air.
Our thoughts and our prayers are with the families and friends of Parker and Adams; we also wish Gardner a speedy recovery. And our thoughts are with our colleagues at WDBJ as they deal with the loss of their friends and co-workers while simultaneously reporting the international news story they find themselves at the center of.