In sports j-school, we did an exercise simulating a New York newsroom environment minutes before the first plane hit on 9/11. That’s right, I paid attention in class. It was funny at the time (the simulation, not 9/11) because of the screaming and how generally clueless we all were.
One of the main things I took away from the exercise was how catastrophes can be good for journalism. As a human being, you’re scared, saddened and shocked by the chaos and suffering. But when disaster strikes, you’re a journalist first – there’s time for feelings latter.
When news first broke that three Moncton RCMP officers were shot and killed Wednesday, there was a bit of worry in the air, but more curiosity, at least to me. There were few details at the time. I’m never on Twitter at work, so I’m pretty out of the loop until I get home.
As updates trickled in, it became clear this was huge news. For the journalists in the province, and especially with the Times & Transcript in Moncton, I’m guessing emotions had to be quickly put aside because suddenly, a massive story with countless angles to pursue was unfolding. Probably every story originally on A1 for all three dailies in the province had to be moved deeper in the paper to make way for the breaking story.
This is pure speculation, but I’m betting a few journalists will look back on their work during this tragic saga and see not only some of the best work of their careers so far, but one of the most thrilling experiences of their journalistic lives. I don’t mean to imply there was any entertainment value. But suddenly, every last reporter is called in. Called in for possibly the most important work day of their lives yet. The situation is ongoing and nobody quite knows the whole picture. You’re on the front lines, tasked with piecing together clues, digging up stories and facts, knowing that this story has made international headlines and that the world is not only watching, but reading.
The emotions hit you later. The loss of three officers, the impact on their families and communities. Perhaps, like Viktor Pivovarov, who captured that stunningly clear photograph of the killer for the Times, you later realize how dangerous the whole thing was.
But during it all, I’m guessing there’s not much time for any of that because you’ve got a job to do.
Apparently, sports departments at newspapers are sometimes called the toy department because their news doesn’t “matter” like “regular” news. As someone with great interest in sports and sport, I don’t really have a problem with that label. The Los Angeles Kings just won 5-4 in double OT against the New York Rangers in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, but in the big picture, it doesn’t matter too much.
In my extremely young career as a journalist, I’ve been to a few sporting events. I noticed that when you’re in the press box, say, at the Rogers Centre for a Blue Jays game, you instantly stop feeling any attachment to the game. Whether the Jays – who I try to follow regularly – win or lose, I’m there to do a job. The Jays could hit a walkoff grand slam and the only thing I’d feel would be irritation because that means scrapping a good chunk of my story.
There was also that time I was in Ottawa for the women’s world hockey championship. Canada against the U.S., of course, in the final. If I was at home on the couch, I would’ve been devastated at the outcome. As I observed the Canadian loss from up high, I didn’t feel anything except nervousness for the interviews I would soon have to do. I didn’t care if Canada lost.
Compared to the Moncton shootings, baseball games and hockey championships are unimportant, of course. During those sporting events, I felt completely detached to the outcomes, even if my favourite team was playing. I’m wondering if I would feel that same detachment if I was a Times & Transcript reporter covering the shootings, or a New York Times reporter during 9/11. Would I feel anything aside from a strong sense of duty? Would it be wrong if I felt nothing at all until after everything returned to some semblance of normalcy?
I sort of hope I never get to find out.