WDBJ Balances Grief With Journalism

The news became personal for the CBS affiliate in Roanoke, Va., when reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were fatally shot during a live broadcast Wednesday morning, forcing co-workers to balance the stunning tragedy with professionalism. Their grief was evident during the newscasts that followed, but so was their restraint.

Alison Parker and Adam Ward’s colleagues at TV station WDBJ saved their tears for off the air.

The news became personal for the CBS affiliate in Virginia when reporter Parker and cameraman Ward were fatally shot during a live broadcast Wednesday morning, forcing co-workers to balance the stunning tragedy with professionalism.

Their grief was evident during the newscasts that followed, but so was their restraint.

“This is a hard day for all of us here at WDBJ7. We are mourning Alison and Adam, but it is our job to find the facts,” anchorwoman Melissa Ganoa said during the 5 p.m. EDT newscast, less than 12 hours after the shooting by a fired station employee, Vester Flanagan, who died later of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

What unfolded was familiar to any TV viewer: A recounting of the crime; news conferences with updates from authorities and reaction from those who knew the victims. A third person, a local chamber of commerce executive who was being interviewed by Parker, was shot and wounded.


The station in Virginia’s Roanoke-Lynchburg media market, however, left it to other outlets to dwell on the footage from WDBJ’s unwitting broadcast of the shooting and, in a bleakly modern twist, apparent “selfie” video posted online by the gunman.

An estimated 40,000 viewers saw it unfold live, untold numbers watched it afterward. The station received calls for interview requests from media outlets in Russia and Australia, among others.

“We are choosing not to run the video of that (the shooting) right now because, frankly, we don’t need to see it again. And our staff doesn’t need to see it again,” Jeffrey Marks, WDBJ’s president and general manager, said on air soon afterward. “But we will do full reporting on it later. Our teams are working on it right now, through the tears.”

In sometimes shaky voices, Marks, reporters and anchors shared tender memories of Parker, 24, and Ward, 27, as kind friends and dedicated colleagues. They also provided sketchy details of the shooting. Then Marks, his hair disheveled but his emotions in check, put a stop to it, at least in those early, freshly painful moments.

“We should probably go back to regular programming now, rather than prolonging this. But rest assured, we’ll come back on the air as more information becomes available,” he said.

In an age when video of crashes, shootings, fires and other tragedies is readily available and endlessly replayed, it was a decision – albeit it one influenced by personal loss – that other outlets often fail to make and for which they are roundly criticized.

WDBJ news director Kelly Zuber was asked in an interview whether the station planned to air the selfie video. In it, a hand holding a gun is seen behind Ward for several seconds and then squeezes off shots at Parker.

“At this point we don’t,” she said Wednesday evening. “We’ll review that as we go. It’s pretty raw right now in our newsroom. And we will continue to process the journalism, and if that piece of video is important to what we do, we’ll include it. But for right now, no. No.”

Lee Wolverton, managing editor of The Roanoke Times, expressed the newspaper’s sympathy for the victims and its intention to provide complete coverage. The paper’s website Wednesday night included a screen grab of WDBJ’s broadcast of the attack, labeled with a viewer warning, but not the selfie video.

“We recognize how important this story is in the life of our community and have strived to deliver the same kind of fullness and context we seek in every story,” Wolverton said in an emailed response, adding that the Times’ reporting would be thorough and presented in “a manner appropriate for the circumstances.”

Elber wrote from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer John Raby contributed to this report from Roanoke, Virginia.

Comments (8)

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Gregg Palermo says:

August 27, 2015 at 8:41 am

How does a troubled employee keep getting hired at news stations after so many short-term jobs? A news director can explain it to you.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    August 28, 2015 at 4:25 am

    When you are a minority, especially in a small market, it’s not about hiring the best person for the job. It’s really a matter of hiring the best of the worse. Clearly you know that.

    Cameron Miller says:

    August 29, 2015 at 1:13 am

    Go away Insider and stop treating us like we’re stupid!

    Wagner Pereira says:

    August 31, 2015 at 6:05 am

    Clearly you are stupid. You prove that daily.

Dale Godfrey says:

August 27, 2015 at 9:32 am

I’ve run across a few ‘loose cannons’ at several newsrooms, and found it very difficult to weave thru the myriad laws which favor the rights of the employee being considered for discharge, against the rights of an employer to discharge any ‘at will’ employee. Some employers have a 90-day no-fault period where either employer or employee can simply walk away without prejudice in either direction. I’ve always felt that a potential hire needs to be carefully, thoroughly, and rigorously vetted before being offered a position.

John McElfresh says:

August 27, 2015 at 12:05 pm

The real problem in checking a potential hire is all most all media companies have very strict rule about giving references. Most only will permit to giving the hire date and end date of former employees, fearing a lawsuit if the give a bad reference. Bottom line so the real assholes like this guy are hard to root out. Most of the time a great former employee will get a good reference, so if you get the he or she worked here from blank to blank that’s all I can give you, run from that prospect as fast as you can. 🙂

Ellen Samrock says:

August 27, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Another article on this site mentioned that stations in CA have hired security personal to accompany their news crews. This may be the way of the future for news crews all over the country. Being “aware of your surroundings” is not an option for a two-person crew, particularly when doing a live shot. Having been a cameraman at one time, like Adam Ward, your whole focus is on getting that footage and doing your job–not watching your back. Stations that have news departments are going to have to bite the bullet and hire security for their crews. It beats having these crews take a bullet for doing their jobs.

Albert Pica says:

August 27, 2015 at 2:22 pm

If I can just say something positive in this thread – WDBJ is one of the most outstanding teams I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. I worked with them for just about a decade and my heart goes out to them. Thoughts and prayers for the WDBJ family as well as the family of the victims. This was such a sad and senseless act.