Nothing like a funeral to bring out the best and worst in people

I’m not sure I know of many news people who enjoy covering funerals. Some might see funerals as easy, one stop shopping gigs where all the players can be shot at one location. Plug in some of the service, get tight shots of the grieving family members or friends, add a little B-Roll from the crime scene or whatever circumstances led to the person’s demise, shoot a stand-up and it’s Miller time. A live shot for the next newscast might also be in order.
I’ve found that covering funerals can bring out the best and worst of both sides.
If it’s a high profile case like the one in Selmer, crews from all over descend on small towns usually not adequately prepared for the onslaught,requests and demands of big town media. They may feel overwhelmed and angry by the attention and instrusiveness. I understand in Selmer, news crews were kept a distance away from the church. I don’t know if a pool camera was allowed in on the service or not. If not, that means the crews will have to scramble to get other video and sound to flesh out their packages. That can be when the feeding frenzy kicks into overdrive.
It’s not just small towns.
A few years back, an Amtrack train hit an 18-wheeler at a crossing in Bourbonnais, Illinois, killing five people from the Midsouth area. The services were held at a large church on Poplar in East Memphis. It seems to me that we had about three or four news crews at the church and we were almost falling all over each other trying to get something different from each other. The family had asked that former Memphis mayor Dick Hackett be the family spokesman/liason. I had been told I had to get some sound from someone other than him and I asked him if he might be able to accomodate me. As I was under a lot of pressure from the office to get the sound and he was not very forthcoming, a decided to do an end run. He saw this and came over and said something to me to express his displeasure. He was nice about it and while I can’t remember his exact words, what he said to me stayed with me for a few days.
I later wrote him a note apologizing for my behavior, telling him I had gotten caught up in the moment and that I had let the pressure to get a story over-ride my personal sense of decorum.
I got a call from the former mayor about a week later telling me he had just received a very nice note from (his words) “a guy with class” and he thanked me for the note and we chatted for a couple of minutes.
On the other hand, some folks in news organizations find out the hard way that they are not wanted. I’ve seen the video of bereaved friends and family who turn angry and the person holding the camera ends up being the object of their rage.
I think it was Bobby Hayes of WREG who was covering a graveside service and I think he was a slight distance away in the cemetery shooting the internment. Anyway, these were not nice people and I think somebody came over and it got physical. I seem to remember somebody telling me that Bobby had to roll under the vehicle as they were kicking at him.
It brings home the fact that, like on a date, sometimes “no means no”.

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8 Comments on “Nothing like a funeral to bring out the best and worst in people”

  1. Eric C Says:

    Jamey Tucker is apparently being raked over the coals for his story on the Winkler funeral….I was just curious what you thought about his situation/explanations. It definitely seems like a slippery slope…

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I heard that someone took an audio recording device into the service. What are your thoughts on that ?

  3. Joe Larkins Says:

    Talk about timing. I posted on covering funerals this morning before I had heard about the controversy. Jamey and I talk on a regular basis and he told me about the brouhaha about an hour after I posted and he directed me to the NewsBlues website.
    The GM at WKRN ( posted on this after receiving an anynomous post and Jamey responds to the accusation of “crashing the funeral” as well. I will say this about Jamey Tucker: He is as fine a person and reporter as I know and I do know many. I don’t think Jamey would do anything underhanded or sneaky. You always know where you stand with Jamey. I think he is very centered when it comes to what is right and wrong.
    I agree it is a slippery slope and I think this could have gone south just as easily. But I think the way Jamey handled this, prevented that.
    I wouldn’t recommend taking a wireless mic into a funeral on a regular basis because if something blows up and you are accused of something bad AND your management doesn’t support you, you could find yourself in a sticky situation.

  4. UPnDC Says:

    And Joe, I think you would agree that the Memphis market became fairly adept there for a while in pooling funeral services. It all started around the Amtrak victims and then went on to a string of several high profile law enforcement deaths including Rupert Peete and Don Overton.

    I personally remember working with Bobby H and other shooters in patching into the A/V systems in several of the large Memphis churches (Christ and Central) on several occations and dropping the feed to a row of live trucks out behind the church. One camera inside, or we would crew the churches existing cameras and supply a TD.

    Back then we all showed we could particpate and do so without being obtrusive, and practically got the entire process down to a science. We did WAY too many funerals like this…almost to the point where we got a reputation for how the market handled them, and how many families actually allowed us to cover them this way. It always amazed me that so many let us in. But it also it also demonstrated how competitors could very effectively work together in telling the stories while still showing restraint and respect to the families during these unfortunately public, yet private events.

  5. Joan Carr Says:

    I can’t get that image of Bobby Hays rolling under a news vehicle out of my mind…

  6. newsboyarizona Says:

    Funerals are difficult for all involved. We spent two days planning for the Memphis funeral of Danny Thomas only to find out on the morning of the service that Margo Thomas had changed her mind and didn’t want the funeral to be videotaped. After an hour of panic, she changed her mind. Never did hear the inside story on what happened there, but I’m sure it wasn’t easy.

  7. newsboyarizona Says:

    Ooopsy, I mean Marlo Thomas. Not Margo. Sorry.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I’m a Jamey “fan” myself, however, I wholeheartedly disagree with the secret microphone recording of the funeral service. Chalk it up to VERY poor judgement.

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