The unthinkable happened again. A different venue. Violent incidents involving a mass of people are becoming all too familiar in the United States. Senseless loss of life and families changed forever because of loved ones either not coming home or spending time in a hospital and if they’re lucky, they do get to return home. Sometime. But not the same. Anyone witness to such a heinous crime, purposeful destruction, are forever changed. In some way. For many, in all ways.
A group some don’t consider in how they are affected during and after an event like that of the Boston Marathon explosions is the news media. Many are quick to accuse journalists of being heartless or insensitive because they are filming or asking questions in the moments following a crisis.
And some are just that, or appear to be that way.
Others are conflicted. Many journalists struggle with remaining professional, calm, on task and unbiased while covering the event and not being part of the event. Some do become part of the story.
Yesterday, if you were watching any of the live television news coverage, you likely saw images you wouldn’t normally see. Why? Because the photojournalists who were there to cover a marathon were thrust into covering a breaking news event.
The point of this post is to remind everyone we all have our jobs to do at certain moments in our work day and sometimes those jobs require us to step outside of our comfort zones.
So what happens in a newsroom during a time of crisis?
1) Phones ring. A lot. Calls in and out of a newsroom, including cell calls are on hyper-function. Witnesses call to report what they have seen or what they are seeing. Public relations people call to ask if the stories they have scheduled for this day are still happening. Reporters and assignment editors scramble to call and cancel what they had planned for the news that day. If the newsroom is in a television station and programming switches from what is regularly scheduled to live coverage of what is happening, viewers call to complain. A lot. Once scheduled interviews are scrapped, those people are calling to either complain or inquire when their story will be covered. Law enforcement agencies and hospitals call to seek the media’s assistance in announcing the latest information or to announce press conferences. Newsroom staff call other staff in on their days off. Staff arranges coverage for school pick up and child care, pet care, cancel personal plans or obligations. Live shots are scheduled. Logistics are coordinated. Sources are checked, and sought out. Lots and lots of sources are called. Often the first called are not available or willing to talk. Hometown connections are established. This cycle continues throughout the day or days and weeks following a crisis.
2) Police scanners go crazy. Things echo throughout the newsroom no one can truly prepare for and often such hectic conversations and screaming is not soon forgotten. There is no editing in the time of a crisis.
3) Again, in a television newsroom, crews bring back or stream back raw video which, if not live, needs to be edited for the newscast. In a print newsroom, photos from the scene are reviewed and selected to help illustrate the story. Just like the scanners, so much of the video and the photos are such that will never make a newscast or publication. So many of the images are unimaginable. Certainly hard to put out of your mind.
4) Lunches/dinners are skipped. Or lost. (remember the horrific images I mentioned?).
5) Tension is high. Tempers can be short. Mistakes are made. Individuals are doing the work of multiple people under enormous deadline pressures.
6) Social media is monitored and shared. Often, it is how sources are found, more depth of detail is learned.
7) Competition is monitored. Yes. You need to see what the others are covering, how they are covering it. See what you might be missing or what you may have that they don’t. Yet.
8) Quitting time is ignored. No one punches a clock in times of crisis. You simply jump in.
9) Crying. Yes, journalists are human. Bottling up all those emotions while conducting an interview or anchoring the newscasts has to be released, and preferably, not for public consumption. The damn has to break sometimes.
10) Special reports and series are planned.
Much of what I’ve written can be said about responders in a crisis. I’ve worked in newsrooms and emergency rooms during times of crisis and I have been amazed at how the teams work together. The ten things I’ve mentioned is by no means an exhaustive list, so much more goes on behind the scenes.
We all have our jobs to do and sometimes they are not all that pleasant or popular. In my public relations career I have always tried to put this fact in the forefront of my mind and I try to approach any assignment with mutual respect for what it is we are faced with in the jobs we must accomplish. We don’t always have to like it or agree with it, but I think it is important for us to have mutual understanding.
If you work as a member of the news media, in times of a crisis, you get up the next day or sometimes sleep a few hours at your office and start all over again. People want answers. We deserve answers.
*Photo credit: Images found on NBC News Facebook Page.