By Jordyn Willis
Sorrow swept the nation last week when WDBJ7-TV reporter Alison Parker and her camera man, Adam Ward, were shot on live television while doing an interview in Virginia.
According to WDBJ7-TV, “Two journalists, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, with local TV news station WDBJ7 were fatally shot Wednesday at 6:45 a.m. during a live TV broadcast at a shopping mall in Moneta, Va., southeast of Roanoke, Va.”
This tragic incident brought together a union of journalists, communication professionals, and aspiring communication professionals across the nation. It was also the topic of conversation in several communications classes at The University of Findlay throughout the day of the shooting.
“I was preparing for media law in my classroom at 9:50 a.m. Wednesday, calling up news sites on the computer for our usual ‘what’s in the news?’ discussion when I saw the banner at the top of cnn.com that two journalists had been shot and killed that morning. I read what little information had been released at that time,” said Diana Montague, professor of communication.
Montague said that her initial response was sadness over the loss of two bright young journalists and fear of the unknown circumstances at the time of the initial report.
“Those who are journalism majors were a bit concerned, I think, about the prospect of violence on the job when you think you’re just covering ‘every day’ stories”, said Montague. “You expect to be in a dangerous environment when you cover war, not when you cover innocuous feature stories.”
The main points brought up in class discussion throughout the communication major were topics surrounding the issue such as the shooter’s troubled history, public access to media outlets, the role of body cameras in current culture, and conflicting video perspectives on site.
In the mass communication and digital media classroom, Amy Rogan, professor of communication, lead the class into a discussion of ethical question. She challenged her communication students to decide how they would cover the story if they were working for a media outlet, and whether they would choose to show the video of the shooting on air.
Student responses varied greatly in answering this question, and several were not sure how they would handle it.
When asked how Joy Shaw, media coordinator for UF and former staff writer for the Courier, would have covered the story, she said she would take it from the angle of an immense pride in journalism.
“Journalists are first amendment champions who have always faced hazards while striving to keep the public informed. They report from war zones. They cover natural disasters while they’re unfolding. They stand up to small-town intimidators, big-time international terrorists and every dangerous circumstance in between,” said Shaw. “They gather, processs, and distribute as much information about a given topic as possible so that their readers can get as close to the truth as possible, and because of that, they make a lot of enemies. Journalism is not a job for the timid. If nothing else, this tragedy should remind the public of the vital work that Alison Parker and Adam Ward did for them, and that their fellow media colleagues will continue to do.”
There are several aspects that can be drawn away as a learning tool for future communication professionals from this incident.
When asked what she hoped most that journalism and communications students take away from this tragic event occurring, Montague discussed the hope that this event will not hinder students drive to work in the journalism field.
“There are no 100 percent safety guarantees in any profession, and journalism is no different. This was a tragedy, indeed, but it was the exception to the rule and not the rule for the profession as a whole,” said Montague. “Don’t let one tragedy keep you from choosing professional communication if that is your passion. Be alert, be aware, and pay attention to your surroundings. There is a lot you can’t control when you gather news, but you can try to stay alert to control what you can.”