How do you feel?

At some point today, some reporter, maybe green, maybe seasoned, will ask some grieving family member the question “How do you feel?” My reaction is always the same. I want to reach through the television, grab the reporter by the throat and respond, “How the hell do you think they feel?”

The mining disaster in West Virginia made me think of how many times the question “How do you feel?” will be asked today. When I went to bed last night, there was still no word on the fate of the miners. When I woke up this morning, my wife, who stayed up to watch the Florida State/Penn State game, told me they broke into the game to announce all but one of the miners were found alive. We turned on the TV to get an update and it turns out somebody got it all wrong. We watched an interview Miles O’Brien had taped earlier on CNN talking with some of the townspeople who were upset with mining officials. It seems mining officials knew 20-minutes after the information came out that it was wrong but failed to correct it for three hours. I thought we were headed for a “how do you feel” question although it was pretty obvious how the people felt. They were P.O.ed in a big, big way.

As a reporter, I always dreaded having to cover something like the murder or tragedy of the day. In Memphis, with more than 200 murders committed one year, it almost got down to covering the murder of the day. If you got assigned to the story, you knew the drill. You had to go knocking on the door of the family, figure out a way to talk to them and “oh, by the way, do you have a picture of the victim.” I never found a way I felt comfortable with doing this particular job. I always felt like a vulture and it was on those days I wished I were in another profession. You didn’t dare come back without the interview or picture, especially if there was a possibility that the competition might get it.

I remember in the aftermath of a deadly train crash in Bourbonnais, Illinois where five people from the MidSouth were killed when the train they were on hit a truck at a crossing. We, along with every other station in town, had team coverage of the funeral services. I was scrambling around to get some sound and video after the services. I felt like an intruder and in fact was. I later wrote a note of apology to the spokesman for the family. He called me a week later to tell me that he appreciated the note.

I know that covering tragedy is a big part of news. It will get done. I just know that if something bad happens to my family, don’t come around with a news camera and never stick a microphone in my face and ask, “how do I feel”. My resulting actions and your attempt to remove both the camera and the mic from some body orifice will let you know in no uncertain terms “just how I feel”.

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8 Comments on “How do you feel?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Have you ever got in a fight or almost got in a fight because of your job?

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Do you know anyone who has got into a fight?

  3. Joe Larkins Says:

    If you are talking about being in the field and running into people who object to what you are doing, yes. I was covering a court case in Covington, TN and the photog was shooting the family as they walked from the courthouse. As we got out on the steps, the father of the family suggested in rather strong terms that if the videographer didn’t stop shooting then he was going to take the camera from his shoulder and then place it in a cavity within the shooter’s body. It wasn’t quite in those terms. I was curious as to how that would work since it was a Sony Betacam! I’ve seen people spit at cameras and hold their hands up to block the lens. I know of instances where they’ve grabbed for the camera to tear it off the shoulder and partally succeeded.
    Another time, I was one man banding in Poplar Bluff, Missouri and covering a story about a man and woman who were accused of abusing 50-dogs on their property. I went to the house, but no one was there and I left a note on their front door telling them I was doing a story and asked them to contact me. I then went to the top of a levee across the street from their house and shot video of the dogs. I did not want to be accused of shooting video on their property without permission. Later that day, I was at the office by myself and I heard the front door open. Standing there were two of the nastiest looking people I had ever seen. The old man wanted to know what the hell I was doing on his property and told me if that story aired, he was not going to be responsible if the office where I worked caught fire. I asked if he was threatening me and he said no, just trying to warn me.
    I actually thought he would follow through with the threat, but he never did.
    I’m sure anyone who has been on the street for any amount of time has had a run-in with someone.

  4. Tvnewseditor Says:

    One of my field crews once got peed on by a group of drunk mourners at a memorial service for 2 teens who had died because of their own stupid actions (I don’t remember what they did to cause their deaths, but it was something newsworthy, yet not criminal).

    Fortunately, my photog rolled on the whole thing so the 2 pee-ers got cited for malicious mischief.

  5. Eric C Says:

    You know who seems to be really bad about the “How do you feel?” questions? Matt Lauer (sp?) and Katie Couric. It could be a school shooting, bus accident, or some other tragedy of the sorts, and there’s Katie, glasses in hand, head turned sideways, saying something to the grieving parents like, “Can you describe for us the intense pain, sorrow, and certain sadness that you are obviously feeling from the depths of your bowels?” I just wanna slap her.

    OK, I feel better. Thanks for letting me vent.

  6. jamey tucker Says:

    I had the misfortune of covering the accidental death of a young girl several years ago. I too was told to “get a picture!”.

    We went to the girl’s home and a neighbor went inside to get us a photo which the station put on the air at 5. At my live shot at 6 the mom found our live truck. She was understandably hysterical and started accusing me of breaking into her house to steal a picture of her little girl.

    Deputies arrived and pulled her away and then stood by to protect us during our 6 o’clock live shot.

    I felt terrible and to this day wonder if or when I’ll run into that mom again.

    Another time I shot a story at an abortion clinic. I interviewed a woman who told me on camera that someone should shoot abortion doctors. After the story ran, the woman came to the station and gained entry. Our general manager saw her and told me later she looked crazy. I was warned to be on the lookout for this woman as no one knew what she might do.

    It can be a dangerous business.

  7. mike Says:

    “… there’s Katie, glasses in hand, head turned sideways, saying something …”

    Tim Blair calls it the “compassionate head tilt.” He’s almost made a hobby of finding examples all over the ‘Net and the media.

    Jamey, did you know this person was a neighbor going into someone else’s home? Didn’t that trouble you at all?

  8. jamey tucker Says:

    Mike, yes, I was troubled. But when you’re handed an assignment to get a photo you don’t want to come back empty handed. There’s pressure to “get the story”. What’s worse is not getting the photo and seeing it with another reporter from another station.
    I don’t necessarily remember if the neighbor identified herself as a neighbor but as either a friend or family. I remember she had a key to the apartment. I also said this was an accidental death of a young girl. That’s what was believed at the time, but later we found out another friend of the family ripped the little girl’s life vest off of her after they fell out of a boat and let her drown.

    I’m sure most reporters get squeamish when they’re handed these stories in the morning meeting. That’s one reason I was happy to get out of the ‘day to day general assignment reporting’ that I used to do.

    There is a great deal of pressure to “get the story” better than the other guys. Sometimes that’s verbalized in newsrooms, but most of the time it’s instilled in you. At least it was with me.


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