Why shooting of 24-year-old reporter strikes a chord thousands of miles away

It’s been a gut-wrenching 24 hours for journalism.

The horrific shooting of a TV reporter and her cameraman was thousands of miles away on another continent – and one where such tragedies are far from rare.

But the deaths of WDBJ7 reporter Alison Parker and her colleague Adam Ward strike a real chord on this side of the Atlantic.

Her face – full of optimism and apparent joy de vivre – has haunted me today, just as the words of her boss – “I cannot tell you how much they were loved” – have touched me.

She was 24 – the same age as several of the reporters that I see in our offices every week.

It’s a great age for a reporter: you may well have qualified as a senior journalist, perhaps have moved from a weekly to a daily paper, and be likely to be in possession of vital confidence and life experience.

The horror of the shooting has been aggravated today by the coverage in some of our nationals – especially The Sun.

I feel sure they will have justified the picture of Vester Flanagan shooting his colleagues by the need to raise awareness of gun crime.

I would argue that the Sun’s use of the tease line ‘Watch the chilling video at…’ tells a rather different tale.

I couldn’t put it better than this chap did on Twitter……….

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I’ve been thinking a lot about journalistic ethics recently, prompted by another tragedy – the air disaster in Sussex.

I wondered how long news organisations would use footage of the crash itself as the victims turned from nameless statistics into fully-formed dads, partners and employees.

For these images must have a shelf life, a cut-off point when their use becomes gratuitous – just as the continued use of the picture of the two victims of the Soham murders became gratuitous.

There are times when our industry’s moral compass is actually ahead of our readers.

I’ve been heartened in recent days to see a real debate about the media’s role in reporting various aspects of domestic abuse, with concern over revenge porn not being covered by sex offence anonymity legislation, and news that a weekly paper is liaising with a charity for victims over whether to name them in court cases.

But the fronts of four national papers today show just how far we still need to go.


While we are remembering journalists who are no longer with us, I should mention the death of
Don Mildenhall, a former editor of the Western Gazette in Yeovil.

I never knew him, but I know plenty of people who did – including his daughter Sarah. They speak of a gentleman journalist who represented everything that I love about community journalism.

I’m at the Gazette today, where it’s good to see preparations are being made to do him extensive justice in next week’s paper.

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