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Trying to Make Sense of the Tragedy in Virginia

08/27/2015 05:33 EDT | Updated 08/27/2016 05:59 EDT
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Like the rest of the world, I was stunned by the news coming out of Virginia early Wednesday morning.

The murder of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward was an unimaginable, senseless act of violence. Making it even more unimaginable was the fact that it happened live, on the air, before 7 a.m. for viewers and their horrified coworkers to see.

Surely, this could not possibly be what it appeared. Surely, these were people caught in the middle of something that had nothing to do with them. Surely, this was random. How could a seemingly innocuous assignment about a local chamber of commerce possibly turn into a triple shooting?

How, indeed. How very tragically, stupidly wrong indeed.

As tragic as it is when an embedded reporter is killed by a missile strike or IED in a war zone, they've signed on for that assignment. They know the risks and are willing to put their life on the line to tell people what is happening, often half a world away.

But local media, that's a different animal. I know that first-hand. I spent years working at a local newspaper.

Local reporters are the folks who report on your high school football teams and local theatre groups; your city council and school board meetings and your Great Aunt Tillie's 105th birthday.

They cover traffic accidents and court cases; new business ventures from an entrepreneurial kid's lemonade stand to the opening of the new big-box store; flower shows and civic celebrations. They're out there reporting in wind and rain and heat and snow because it's their job to provide the community news people residents to go about their day.

Sometimes, like I was, they're lucky enough to work for the newspapers they used to read, or at the TV stations they watched as a kid and are content to spend their careers in their hometowns or neighbouring communities.

Other times, they come to a new, often small, community right out of journalism school; green and ready to learn. They dive into their adopted hometowns and get involved with charity events and talk to middle school students about journalism and the importance of being engaged in the news. They're just doing everyday things, talking to the people they run into at the grocery store or the mall or the local bar.

Like most young people on the job, they spend long hours together and frequently meet and fall in love with people in their own fields. Parker had recently moved in with an anchor at her station and they hoped to one day marry. Ward was engaged a producer whose last day on the job was Wednesday. There should have been early morning cake and happy tears shed for a woman on her way in the world when the show wrapped. Instead, stunned colleagues joined her and Parker's boyfriend Chris Hurst in grieving Parker and Ward's senseless executions at the hands of a disgruntled former colleague.

The media is a funny thing. There is fierce competition for stories and the one-upmanship is often brutal. But on a day like today, it comes together as a band of brothers (and sisters). Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of anyone in the media or even associated with the media expressed their shock and horror over the events of the day. Many watched the footage of the shooting. Many more (myself included) did not. Many mentioned the shooter's name. I will not.

Of course I didn't know Alison Parker and Adam Ward. I hadn't heard of WDBJ until I saw it trending on Twitter. But what I saw of them from news clips from past shows tell the story of colleagues who clearly loved their jobs, and had great affection for each other. That is how they should be remembered.

We will think about Alison Parker and Adam Ward for a few days, and then we'll move on to the next tragedy. It's the nature of the beast. For most, they will be a footnote in the Great American Conversation about gun control and mental health. But their friends and loved ones and colleagues will carry the scars of this day for the rest of their lives. Nothing will fill the hole left by two vivacious young people who were cut down in their prime. And they will never see justice for the man responsible, because, in the end, he took the coward's way out.

If there is even a single speck of comfort for those to take from this tragedy, it's the knowledge that they were not alone in their final moments.

It isn't much, but sometimes, that's all there is.

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Virginia Shooting of Alison Parker and Adam Ward