On the heels of my undergrad work I landed a couple of interviews in small television markets in the shadows of larger ones, Chicago and Seattle. The second was for a field reporter position in Yakima. They saw my reel and called me in.
The interview went well. The station was nice given its market size and there were certainly worse areas one could start a career in television journalism. I had worked my way up the chain and had my final interview with their assignment editor. He explained they’d had a rash of gang violence in their coverage area and had a drive-by shooting the day before. He explained they had a field crew nearby who reached the crime scene before the police and trauma arrived. On the sidewalk in front of his house lay the victim. As the photog was powering up his camera the victim’s mother came through the front door, saw her child and started screaming.
“What would you do?” was the editor’s question.
I watched CNN Headline News this morning. Robin Meade was filling while a courtroom in Aurora, Colorado was preparing a hearing for James Holmes. She had on her show via phone a psychologist from a New York hospital. HLN had just contrasted Holmes’ character from summer camp counselor to mass murderer, and she asked her phone-in guest what could possibly be going on in Holmes’ mind.
The psychologist warned against speculating anything, but she did indicate that minds like these seek publicity regardless its infamy and that news organizations feed into this by showing the perpetrator’s photo and talking about his life, all the while a photo of Holmes was displayed. She went on to say that instead of focusing on the alleged gunman, perhaps more attention should be paid to the victims and efforts to restore sanity in Aurora.
The show cut quick to Meade who was as quick to point out they had just run a story about the victims in the previous segment. Meade went on to chide the psychologist, “I mean, you’re a psychologist, surely you must have…” I changed the channel at that point.
I didn’t even think about my response. “Stop the bleeding,” I said. My career ended there in that newsroom. He smiled and thanked me for taking the time to come to Yakima for the interview.
During the long drive home I wrestled with the realization that I wasn’t cut-out to be a reporter. While I could write and shoot, I could interview and edit, I could even do a decent stand-up, what I couldn’t do was ignore the entire story, including the contextual ramifications of the events, even as they were unfolding.
The psychologist was right. The media in their ernest scooping and patronized grandstanding have plastered screens, websites and front pages with the image of a killer and stories of his life, and while I’ll admit this is total speculation on my part, I suspect Holmes got exactly what he wanted.
If it bleeds it leads.