WDBJ Shooting – It could have been me OR any of my colleagues!


I have to say I am speechless. I am having a hard time articulating how much this is bothering me. This blog post is by no means trying to make this situation about “me”…but it could have been me. Yes…I was that guy, that photojournalist. They had no idea…none!

This comes almost a few days after the ten year anniversary of Katrina. I was a part of a crew that covered Katrina for Belo Corporation, who owned WWL-TV. Yes, we flew helicopters over areas where people were stranded, many of whom were trying to get our attention hoping we would help them. Some used guns to shoot at us while flying over, mainly to get our attention…we could not land because of the location and the danger.

Journalists everyday, every day put themselves (both knowingly and unknowingly), covering events for public consumption. I have friends that have been in the middle of battle zones overseas, in the middle of gun fights, even been victims of bad car accidents on the Interstate when someone lost control and hit the journalists on the side of the road. The job is sometimes not safe and comes with less that average pay.

I have come to this very simple conclusion: we cannot control crazy but we can knowingly help prevent a lot of these situations.

When you watch the video from the gunman’s perspective, the reporter and photojournalist had no clue someone was pulling a gun on them. They were located in an isolated area, early in the morning with a sense of safety.

When I was still working as photojournalist in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, companies were phasing out an additional person to help during live remote broadcasts. These individuals either helped manage the microwave live-truck during a live broadcast or helping as an extra set of hands or eyes. These individual jobs and additional man-power many times impacted the companies financials, these was a place to cut.

It is my hope that this situation spurs a larger conversation with groups like NPPA and other professional organizations (including Poynter), two people managing a live remote broadcast is not enough. When I say two people, I mean it is not enough for just a reporter and a photojournalist to manage a live remote. These professionals need help in the field.

We have all witnessed the potential un-rest a live broadcast can generate in a community. From the person who was screaming profanities behind the reporter, live volatile events like Ferguson, sporting events with excited fans…it always helps to have an extra set of eyes.

The gunman came from no where, un-noticed, and leveraged a situation where the victims had no time to react. He knew both of these individuals. He knew they would be there alone. He knew how live broadcasts happen. He knew when to show up. This was pre-meditated.

He was waiting for the photojournalist to pan back to the reporter so he could fire the gun…for the whole world to see. The reporter probably could see him in her peripheral vision when he walked up, but is trained to stay focused on the live broadcast. She obviously did not notice he raised a gun, thus indicating danger. The photojournalist had his back to the gunman.

Would additional man-power prevented this from happening, I have no idea! But I do know that have additional help watching the production and not just facing what the camera was capturing could have provided additional manpower to alert this crew he was walking up and literally standing with the gun pointed at them for a long period of time.

We as the audience watching the video he captured from the gun’s perspective show him holding the gun up, then lowering, then holding back up…only a few inches from unknowing victims…in plain sight.

I pray for the families and friends of the victims. I pray for a larger conversation surrounding this incident and the need to re-evaluate the safety of those whom bring us information and images everyday.