Tuesday 02nd September 2014,
The Transcript

Reporting in the face of terror: A journalist’s burden

Staff April 18, 2013 Opinion No Comments

By Spenser Hickey
Assistant Copy Editor

I first heard of the Boston Marathon bombing shortly after 4 p.m. on Monday as I scrolled through my Facebook feed after class.

A few minutes later, I learned that my cousin and his girlfriend, who both ran in the marathon, had left the finish line 30 minutes before the bombs went off and were safe and sound.

That immediate concern relieved, I then turned on CNN and listened as they tried to make sense of what had happened.

As mentioned in the above editorial, this was the first terrorist attack to claim American lives on U.S. soil since 9/11.

As with 9/11, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, there were unconfirmed reports of more attacks—that additional bombs were found on Boylston Street, and that the JFK Library, also in Boston, had been bombed as well.

I wondered whether this was the first wave, if more attacks would soon follow.

As these thoughts raced through my mind, I began to write the story that now appears on pages one and two.
It was probably 4:45 at this point, and the governor of Massachusetts and the Boston police commissioner were giving a press conference.

Initially, I expected my story would be a short informative one, with details about the attacks provided by Boston police and some quotes from the press conferences.

I wrote a few lines down, then ate dinner, constantly watching the news, wondering if they would be reporting additional attacks.

Initially there were reports that two were dead and 28 injured, though the number would soon increase—at 5:10 CNN reported 49 were injured; at 5:14 they cited the Boston Globe and raised the count to 100.

Shortly before 7 p.m., I emailed my editor-in-chief, my news editor and my copy editor about the story I’d started. At this point I doubted it would run due to a lack of a link to the OWU community. I was mainly writing to help understand what had happened.

A few minutes later, I heard back that I should talk to OWU students from the Boston area.

It was at this point, about 7:05, that it hit me—I was reporting on a genuine terrorist attack. It was a deeply troubling thing to realize.

As a journalist, I dream of being able to report on real news and serious issues, but death and destruction are not things we relish writing about.

America had been attacked again—although whether it was from the outside or the inside is still unclear.
While the body count was much, much lower than 9/11, the images of people running in fear, of smoke billowing down city streets and emergency responders rushing to the scene were still terrifying to watch.
I focused my mind back on the task at hand, knowing that the story I was working on would be published, that this had to be done.

Before I heard of the bombings, my plan for the evening was to work on an upcoming paper; instead I found myself rushing headlong into the story.

I wrote it out of a desire to understand what was going on, how this had happened and to document the tragedy as it unfolded.

Shortly after 7, before I emailed several potential sources, I took a walk down to Blue Limestone. It’s a good place to go to when I’m stressed, and no story I’ve written has had more pressure than this one—not that the many of the others were stress-free either.

On the way there, I wrote out a draft of the emails I sent, mindful that those receiving them had just had a terrorist bombing in the area where their families live.

Then I just walked around for awhile, trying not to think about the two dead and many more injured or whether this would happen again in the coming days.

Eventually, after almost an hour, I walked back to OWU and got to work.

To my surprise, I quickly heard back from two Boston-area students who did respond to the questions I sent, and who both had friends at the Marathon and family in the area. Fortunately, all of them survived the attack unscathed, at least physically.

However, shortly before 9 p.m., the Boston police commissioner announced that there had been a third fatality caused by the blast.

Early Tuesday morning, we were notified that an OWU alum knew the family of one of those killed in the attack.

As a journalist, it’s my job to follow the news closely and report on major events, and I usually enjoy it very much. This week, though, it’s not been a pleasant job to have.

Amidst the reports of carnage, of maiming, of death, though, there was hope—stories of runners risking everything to go back into the bomb zone and help, or sprinting on to Mass General, two miles away, to give blood.

It is hearing stories like these that makes me proud to be American, and it is reporting on them that makes me proud to be a journalist.

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