Jeffrey Marks, president-GM of WDBJ Roanoke, Va., says that while representing the station to the world after two of his journalists were gunned down was tough, “I think 99% of reporters on stories like these do show compassion.” But, he added, holding up a mike to one side of the story and then the other side of the story doesn’t suffice. “We have to work diligently to provide history and perspective.”
Less than a month after “the worst day of my career,” Jeffrey Marks, president-GM of WDBJ Roanoke, Va., says his experiences being on the other side of reporters’ microphones after two of his staffers were killed on-air changed his perception of the media “for the better.”
“I think 99% of reporters on stories like these do show compassion,” Marks said Thursday morning at the annual TVB Forward conference in New York.
Marks, whose reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were shot by a disgruntled former employee on Aug. 26, said he “chose immediately that morning” to represent his team by working with the local and national press that rushed to cover the shooting.
“I had a story to tell,” he said, adding that questions about the shooter and how the station was covering the story were among the topics he discussed with reporters.
Marks said his experience was not unlike other victims “who want to talk and invite people in.
“That’s what I did,” he said. “Sometimes as journalists we get derided for sticking mikes in people’s faces and asking how they feel. Well, that’s our job,” he said. “How people cope with disaster is part of the story.”
Marks praised the reporters who covered the story, saying they dug deep to learn as much as they could about the shooter and the various issues — gun control, mental health and safety among others. “They served the public.”
He said the experience also raised serious issues for the larger broadcast industry. “I don’t think we consider enough the danger of what local TV station personnel do.”
He called on broadcasters to explore how they may best use their platforms to fairly cover pressing issues that contribute to crime — gun control and mental health care among them.
Holding up a mike to one side of the story and then the other side of the story doesn’t suffice, he says. “We have to work diligently to provide history and perspective.”
He also called on broadcast journalists to tell the truth, whether that means properly identifying sponsored content in newscasts or nixing the use of euphemisms.
Noting the largely white audience he was speaking to, Marks said the TV industry can help remedy the inequities in this country with more minority hiring.
“We can fix the unconscionable rate of violence in our country with diversity,” he said. “We must embrace the challenge the way we embraced the challenge to put a man on the moon … for my young people and everyone who dies from violent acts.”
Read all of TVNewsCheck’s TVB Forward coverage here.