Journalism Tips: No One Is Safe


If you live online like most writers do then you’ve no doubt seen the footage of two news team members being shot and killed on live television this morning in Virginia. The incident happened amid an otherwise typical morning broadcast, during a segment that had nothing to do with politics or anything else that could be considered controversial. Two people were simply doing their jobs, the same job we all hope to be paid to do, and moments later their lives were over. If you somehow missed the story until now, please let this except from Gawker fill you in:

WDBJ reporter Alison Parker was interviewing a woman at Bridgewater Plaza, a shopping center in Roanoke, VA, when the apparent gunman strode into the shot, firing what sounded like at least six shots.

Both Parker (27) and her cameraman, Adam Ward (24), were killed in the attack. The woman being interviewed was shot, but she was transported from the scene to the ER in critical condition. At the time of this post reports are unsure whether or not she will survive.

The reasons for this shooting remain unclear while I write this post, but the explanation as to why this happened is nowhere near as terrifying as the fact it did happen. This is both the saddest and most terrifying thing imaginable. We read about these shootings ever week it seems, and we cry for something to be done, but this time we actually saw it. This happened on LIVE TV. Families were probably eating breakfast together when these shots rang out. Children saw this happen, in real time. Parents, likely preparing to leave their kids for the day, watched their children take this in while trying to grasp it themselves. As a news writer and human, my heart has broken many times over.

This is not a political blog, and we admittedly don’t understand gun control laws enough to comment on them, but we would have been lying to ourselves if we made today’s update about anything other than this incident. This is the only thing I can think about. The footage has played on a loop in my mind since I witnessed it around 8AM and I worry it won’t cease anytime soon. I’m frustrated, saddened, and altogether upset that such cruelty exists. This news team may not have been a part of the music industry, but they are journalists just like you or I, and they did not deserve to die in this fashion.

The recent rash of random shootings in the United States seems to only be growing worse, and it’s just one of a myriad of things people have to worry about every day. It’s one of the most concerning, for sure, but there are a million things that we as writers and people have to fret about in addition to simply doing our jobs. This story strikes close to home for me, I guess, because it just feels so random. It seems any reporters anywhere could fall victim to a gunman seeking attention and that shakes me to my core. People don’t think it will happen in music, or they tell themselves it won’t, but I’m sure everyone at WDBJ7 never imagined something like this would happen to their own team. It’s honestly a matter of time rather than a matter of chance. Remember the man who killed Dimebag Darrell? We forget all too quickly that these things have happened, and most likely will happen again, in our own scene.

I think the scariest aspect of this entire affair is the fact it’s entirely unpredictable. Underoath have a song titled “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door,’ and though it was written a decade ago it’s never been more fitting than it is today. 2015 has been the year we as people realized just how exposed we are no matter where we go. The places we once felt safe and communal, like malls or theaters, have turned into games of chance that we play because we refuse to let fear prevent us from living our lives. We have no choice. We either fight the fear we will be killed leaving our homes or we live sheltered lives cut off from the world. This has more or less always been the case, but in a time where we can’t go more than a week without a major shooting hitting the headlines the stakes seem higher than ever.

A part of me wants to beg you, all of you, to be as safe as possible when going about your daily lives. I want to tell you that there is chance and risk in every good story, but also that no bit of coverage is worth your life. At the same time, I realize Alison Parker and Adam Ward believed they were safe when headed into this morning. Today probably felt like any other day right up until the moment the first shots rang out, and that may be the most terrifying realization of all. The best any of us can do is to stay alert and report anything that doesn’t feel right, but even then there is no guarantee of safety.

Be brave, but not stupid. The world is crazy place and it’s only going to get crazier if things stay the way they are. I have your back if you have mine, but I can’t promise that will be enough to keep either of us safe.

James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.