Friday, November 20, 2009

First Response

Working in radio news has its perks. For one, it's definitely not a desk job and it changes every day. Also, you get to hear about everything that's happening in the world first. Basically, this means that when Michael Jackson died, I knew right away. And when Justice Sotomayor was confirmed. The list goes on.

And now I get to stop sounding like a cheery journalism textbook. Knowing what's happening when it happens can also lead to a good amount of stress and strife. When I'm in the newsroom, I'm forced to think about crises constantly. And then I have to edit down commentary on crises. There's no escape.

I was in the newsroom the night one Metro train crashed into another. We got the news, and everyone dropped everything. The typical lineup of stories (some fun, some features, some money-related stuff, some sports) went out the window. Someone pulled out the "breaking news" music. Without being told (amazing for a student to see), every reporter was on the phone trying to get whatever information they could from whoever might now it.

I'm writing this after the fact, so this post might have already lost some of it's impact. Remember, the first thing we heard was a train had crashed. We had to put together everything else from that. Where the crash was, how many people were hurt, how many trains, how are people going to get out, what's going to happen to train service, how do people find out if their loved ones are on the train, why did the crash happen, how is the cleanup going to happen, is Metro going to issue a statement, can anyone see the crash, what's new, what's new, what's new. There's a lot of questions, and it's live, breaking news so we have to get as much information as fast and accurately as possible.

WTOP sent two reporters to the scene immediately. The crash happened around 5:30, but later I found out that they didn't get to go home until 4:00 a.m. That's a lot of time, considering these reporters were already midway through their shifts. One of them told me later that there was a reporter from another organization there. She arrived directly from another assignment. She was wearing stiletto heels, and she continued wearing them and standing up all night long.

Back in the newsroom, I was told to stand by one of the many televisions and simply watch. One of the things I never realized about news is how much copying takes place. I was supposed to watch local TV coverage and let the assistant editor know if I heard any new information in other stations' coverage. That is, whenever a number popped up, I ran to tell someone.

I watched the death toll rise from one to two to five to seven. the next day, the numbers were up to nine dead. And even though I was many miles away inside the newsroom, it was a different type of impact than what I've felt watching a tragedy from my living room.

The reporters kept calling in live reports. No one in the newsroom left to go home. People who were supposed to leave at six were still at their desks at 9:00. This is news, you can't put it down and pick it up the next day.

One of the professors at American University is studying the connection between journalism and stress. his findings show that journalists experience the same levels of stress as first responders. That is, an EMT or a police officer and a journalist feel the same tension in an event like this.

The Metro crash was special. It was tragic local at the same time. But the numbers come in from something like the Fort Hood shooting, too. It's everyone's job to listen. I wonder what it was like to be in a newsroom on 9/11? I'm not saying I wish I could have seen it...but if I had, there's no telling what I might have learned.

It's part of the business. Plus, like I said before, you don't get this sort of thing in a classroom.

No comments:

Post a Comment