The News-Review reporters recall Oct. 1 coverage
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on the media’s role in the community. The article contains profanity and possible triggers.
The tendency to blame the messenger rather than the message may be human nature; it certainly has been applied universally to the media who report disasters and tragedies such as UCC’s Oct. 1 school shooting. But is that anger misplaced?
When we don’t understand someone’s role, someone’s job, someone’s orientation, should we still be following the metaphorical equivalent of burning others on a pyre of our anger? Even when that “someone” is the media?
The media circus that erupted in our community following Oct. 1 was a secondary trauma for many as images and words kept reminding us that the places we thought safe aren’t impenetrable, that friends are mortal, that one person’s anger can change our realities.
However, reporters and photojournalists are the historians of our modern world. Through them we learn of breaking events, good and bad. Through them, small communities connect to the rest of the world. Through them, we discover we are not alone in these disasters. Through their stories, we often begin the healing process.
Before we consider the way the media covers these events, perhaps we should ask, “What would happen if they didn’t do this job?”
What would today look like if we lacked the historical record of the world’s villains? What if Hitler’s story had been covered up? And, what if we trusted the historical record to someone besides a third party?
Before the police barriers were put up on Oct. 1, reporters from The News- Review had entered the crime scene. This wasn’t easy for them, either physically or emotionally, and nothing really prepares you for this in your own town.
Ian Campbell, The News-Review’s public safety reporter, and Troy Brynelson, the city government and natural resources reporter, helped spearhead the coverage that day and in the months after.
Ian Campbell’s story
“That morning was just a regular morning for us. We have an afternoon paper, so we have morning deadlines. We were all just kind of on deadline. I typically spend the morning doing police logs. I’ve got a scanner on my desk.
“So when the scanner traffic started, I heard it picking up that there was a shooter on UCC’s campus. And when I heard it, I don’t think I connected the dots immediately. You don’t know what that means when you hear it. When you hear ‘shooting’ you kind of hear ‘shooter.’ Then I think they reported multiple injuries, someone had been shot.
“I looked around and talked to Mike Henneke and pretty much told him what I had just heard in the process of picking up my coat and cell phone and zipping out the door. From there I went north to the campus, parked up at the top of College Road, met up with Mike Sullivan, our photographer. And at that point, the intersection was starting to be closed off to vehicles. We got out of our cars and started literally jogging down College Road to the campus, not knowing what the hell we were getting into. We didn’t have our scanners with us, our cell phones didn’t work cause there’s not a lot of service out there, so there was no updates about what we were about to get into.
“While we’re running, there’s ambulances, police cars, SUVs hauling ass past us. Once we got a little bit close, we started seeing ambulances pulling away from the scene, like speeding away from the scene. And that’s when we first realized, ‘Holy shit, this is what this means; this is what we are about to walk into.’ So once we get there, there’s a line of police cars lining up and down College Road. We’re running through them, looking in windows. Oregon State Police, Roseburg, Sheriff’s department, everyone’s there. And we get to campus where they are pooling people. Mike and I get there early enough into the whole situation that we are still seeing people getting loaded up into the ambulances. The ones that are injured, the ones that are dead, they’re all still there.”
At this point in his story, Campbell makes a comment, the expected comment, about being the first reporter to the scene. Campbell does not celebrate this perk. He didn’t get to be the first person there. He had to be.
“I think we were the only reporters, maybe the radio [station] got someone there, but there were only two or three of us there. I know a lot of people have asked me in hindsight, ‘What kind of responsibility do you hold when you are one of the only reporters in the world on scene? What kind of responsibilities do you feel you have?’ I talked to Mike Sullivan too; I don’t think we really felt a responsibility. It was our job to cover it. That’s why we were there. It’s no different than any other story at that point in time. You get there; you look around. People are in pain, people are suffering – it’s a shit shack. But all you do as a reporter, you figure out what is happening. I’m sure there was a number of stupid questions I asked people, like ‘What’s happening?’
“I spend about an hour or two on campus just talking to people, figuring out what was happening before they started shipping people to the fairgrounds. I called my editor, told him a little bit about what I was seeing and what I had. I think he started writing the post then, cause we held the paper that day. I went back to the office to finish writing because Troy had gone to the fairgrounds.”
Troy Brynelson’s story
“My story is similar to Ian’s. I was preparing to cover marijuana that day since Oct. 1 was the first day medical dispensaries could sell weed recreationally. I remember gearing up for that all morning. Then at 10, Ian hears the active shooter on campus come in over the walkie-talkie he has on his desk. At first I thought it was something less serious. We’ve heard reports of guys walking through their neighborhoods, close to schools, with hunting rifles on their backs. But then on the walkie-talkie we hear that so many are wounded (I think it was 10). Then we just got in gear.
“With Ian on the campus, I spent a good chunk of time down at the Douglas County Fairgrounds where buses of students were being shuttled to emergency stations set up by the Red Cross. I spent quite a while trying to approach people who were visibly shaken and frustrated in a unique way. I can’t speak to natural disasters, but when a shooting happens and it’s another human committing these inhumane acts, I would believe it would throw your guard up towards anyone. As a reporter you do your best to balance your responsibility/job — to get facts and get the truth and hear from people who were affected — with your sensitivity to others’ hardships.
“I didn’t want to step on anyone’s feelings or invade anyone’s privacy. But as a reporter you already have a feel for the fact that people who want to talk will talk (for their own reasons), and people who don’t want to talk won’t (for their own reasons as well). That’s true of any event. People process differently.
“Regarding the last bus — so, there were buses arriving intermittently. They would pull up, unload passengers who’d fall into their loved ones’ arms, then the bus would circle back and another bus load would come. Credit to the response teams because they were getting dropped off quickly. Eventually, Roseburg Fire Chief Gregg Timm walked out to where the buses were and yelled to the crowd something along the lines of how there’s only one last bus coming and that if you’re waiting for someone on it you should go inside the fairground’s main building to wait. I tried to go in; I talked to Roseburg City Manager Lance Colley about it, and he just said it wouldn’t be right. Which I didn’t push. In a lot of ways I’m glad I didn’t push because it turned out that there was no last bus. Those people who went inside were told that the person they were waiting for was either at Mercy Medical Center or dead. I’m not sure when I found that out but it was later.”
But what comes next? How does local media, especially a local small publication for a small community, handle this level of trauma? How do national publications, larger publications, handle this topic?
“Local media’s first job is to report the facts and disseminate information for everybody else. So while that’s not actively helping anyone, giving up valuable and trusted information so that everyone can be better informed should always be considered helpful, especially in situations, like disasters, where information is flying in every direction and it’s not clear what’s actually true. But it’s still up for the reader to interpret what’s helpful and what isn’t. This is the immediate help we can offer,” related Brynelson in an email interview.
Campbell agreed. “What do you know to be true? What needs to be shared, but hasn’t yet been verified? I think both are important. You ask, ‘How did it happen? Why?’ You have to flush out the facts and timeline. Share stories of who was there, why were they there, what did they see. How did they react? Feel? How are the next six months going to feel? It may seem super shallow, but that’s what you do. Ask ‘What the hell are you going to do tomorrow waking up and your best friend is dead?’ It sucks, but those are the questions that everyone has. When you’re on campus you’re thinking, ‘What the hell? What does this all mean?’ As a journalist, you get to ask those sometimes stupid, personal, invasive questions.”
The public often ridiculed the media for doing its job, but they had already ridiculed themselves. On top of that, local reporters had to compete with national media with its advantages.
Larger media outlets like The Oregonian and the Washington Post often cover tragedies. They have access to databases that make their jobs easier and helped them coordinate coverage on Oct. 1.
They also, eventually, leave town. On the other hand, for the local media this is home. Their friends, their sources, their community.
“First media tour on campus– the entire thing was very weirdly put together. They bused us in at the top, we went to a press conference, then they bused us down to the parking lot next to Snyder hall. They let us out. The place was filled with AP photographers, AP reporters and a couple local people. Their plan was that we walk around Snyder Hall, then walk around the courtyard to where the memorial was set up. AP reporters don’t follow directions very well, and they are very, very good at it. So we walked around Snyder Hall; the PR people were trying to corral us, like ‘Here’s Snyder Hall, take a picture.’
“On the other side of Snyder Hall, there was a prayer group happening. AP photographers went straight to them, snapping pictures. The people in the prayer group weren’t very happy; the PR people were like ‘What are you doing?’ If you see those pictures, they are hauntingly good, so good. And very indicative of what was happening on campus that day. What people are feeling. They’re not fake propaganda pictures. You see people crying on campus just days after, a couple feet away from where it happened. If AP’s not there, no one sees that.
“And, yeah, it may feel intrusive, that second trauma, [but] the entire country looking at that one picture knows exactly what you are going through. That is really valuable; that’s what we try to do. It sucks. I’m sure if you’re right there, everyone hates those photographers. They will see their name later, and I’m sure say ‘fuck that guy.’ But that guy is good at what he does; he just told a story.”
I continue to be amazed, as a student who suffered through lock down and its after effects, that when I hear someone else’s story of Oct. 1, I find a piece of them that I may have never gotten a chance to see. And, I am also still finding another part of me when I listen to these stories. We all have a story that deserves to be told. And through these stories, we are forever connected. The media deserves some credit for that.