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A while back, I wrote a post I was very proud of, talking about how radio broadcasters work at the grass roots of entertainment, doing almost every conceivable job in the business at some point during our broadcast days, including plenty of contact with the public.  Television news broadcasters are exceptionally similar in that regard.

We just got a horrifically painful reminder of what that can occasionally mean.

It’s hard – no, it’s impossible – not to be more than a little heartbroken at the loss of two young broadcasters who were (cliché time) innocently going about their jobs, jobs that, by the way, are essential to our democracy. The why here is of little matter – what’s important here are not the killer’s motivations, but the reality that two young people have left us by his actions.

Broadcasters – and, as we were reminded today, not just the ones who you see on-screen or hear on-mic – go out into the public every minute of every day to interact with both their viewers/listeners/fans and with people who either don’t know who they are or who do know who they are and are decidedly not fans of their work. In radio, we talk about being live without a net, and what we typically mean is that we don’t get to say, “Cut! Let’s try that again.”

But it also means that we go out in public not knowing what bizarre danger may be waiting for us. Remember that the next time you see a “wacky” YouTube video of some jackass messing with a reporter who is live (and therefore at their most vulnerable). The reporter is trying to do a job with utmost professionalism while they’re left wondering if their safety is at risk. Sometimes it is.

I’ve been lucky. In my 35 years in the business, only once have I had someone try to wrestle a microphone from me while I was making a public appearance. I’ve “only” dealt with two stalker situations. “Only” one involved a physical confrontation with someone who had followed a female air talent who worked for me home from work. No one was physically harmed, though I can name two female air talents whose peace of mind was definitely harmed.

I’ve worked in buildings that were exceptionally well secured, and I’ve worked in buildings where security wasn’t even an afterthought; it was never thought of at all.

Do you know when we’ll stop reaching out to our audience? The correct answer is: never.

We love it. We love our audience. We love our fans. We love the energy we get from interacting with them every single day. We love making a difference in people’s lives, even if it’s only by helping them smile a little on a rough day.

The occasional scary moments (and the occasional obnoxious moments) are all part of the bargain we accept because we love what we do and we care about the communities we serve. We’ll continue to deal with those moments because the payoff so far outweighs the downside.

Usually. Of course, not today.

So, a few thoughts about today’s horrific news:

  • Send your thoughts, prayers, positive energy – whatever it is that you believe in – to the families and loved ones of those who were murdered today, and do likewise for everyone at WDBJ-TV. Feel free to shed some tears. If you work in the business, feel free to express some appreciation to the folks you work with.
  • If you’re an owner, or a senior executive, of a broadcast outlet – however big or small – spend a little time thinking about how you protect your people, both at the station and when they’re out in the field. You can’t prevent every tragedy, but what can you do better?
  • If you’re a broadcaster who goes out in public, be aware of your surroundings and do what you can to protect yourself. More importantly, be incredibly proud of what you do. The information you provide to the public is priceless, and so is the entertainment you provide. Both matter more than you realize.

Everything in life carries risk. Few things are more rewarding than what happens when you work on the ground floor of media and entertainment. We’ll keep doing it.

That, however, does not lessen the heartbreak that goes with what happened today.

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