I watched WDBJ General Manager Jeff Marks conduct interviews throughout the day after the news broke that Alison Parker and Adam Ward had been shot and killed during a morning live shot for their news station. With poise and dignity, Marks faced the worst of days and answered every difficult question that came his way and in the process, blasted away common stereotypes the public has about the media. I’ve been a part of the TV news media for twenty five years and here are some of the things I’ve heard about us over the years:
– “the media are mindless robots who lack emotion and empathy”
-“the media are anti-religious”
-“the media are good at asking tough questions unless the questions are directed at them”
Three common complaints and all three were addressed the day of the shooting. The WDBJ staff showed clear and compelling evidence that local news teams are far from mindless, emotionless robots. Their coverage of the loss of their colleagues was professional, dignified, and empathetic. There was no cheap pandering to social media, no exaggerated over-hyped coverage or flashy graphics and animation. Just simple, sincere storytelling.
During an interview with CNN, Marks said station employees and news teams had spent at least part of their day in group prayer and they had found comfort in praying together. Marks appeared on one show after another, in one news conference after another, willing and able to answer all questions sent his way on the most difficult of days. No side-stepping, no deflection, just honest answers to tough questions.
There’s a lot to be learned from this tragedy: Gun control, mental illness, and news crew safety come to mind. But WDBJ and their staff, at least for a day, brought credibility, empathy, passion and professionalism back to local news.
Maybe that’s the legacy Alison and Mark will leave behind.