Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I cried in front of my staff today

Photo: CNN

I didn't know Alison Parker or Adam Ward.
I've never worked at WDBJ. In fact, I spent the first three years of my TV news career trying to catch up with WDBJ!

The internet doesn't need to hear from me.
But I need this blank screen tonight.

I need its space.
I need its grace.

I was in Roanoke when 9/11 happened. I didn't cry until 9/14. I was 20 years old. I immediately went into "breaking news" mode. I digested facts and video as accounts of tragedy came into a newsroom of Beta tape decks and big fat desktop computers. Churn, churn, churn. I remember thinking I should be feeling something, but I don't. I just keep churning. Update the ticker. Do a cut-in when NBC gives us a local availability. Book satellite time for our crew in DC. Cue the reporters. Write the scripts, sort the scripts. Count the show out and close with a shot of the red, white and blue Roanoke star on top of Mill Mountain.

I was a baby then.
I didn't even know what a terrorist was or where exactly Afghanistan was on a map.
The day before that, I had been working on an animation about shark attacks.
I didn't feel anything for three days. Until my pastor prayed during my 6:00 p.m. newscast. I cried then.

I've worked in Roanoke, Norfolk, Pittsburgh, DC... I've covered plane crashes and school shootings and child abuse cases and horrible things being done to animals. I've been around the news sun quite a few times. I've been shaken a few times but not like today.

Today, I cried in front of my staff. At the head of a conference room table.

This morning, I found out about the shooting on my way to work. I hoped it was just a dramatic Facebook video. Maybe they are okay. Maybe it was just shots fired in the area, and they ducked and they are okay. I got to work and found out WDBJ didn't go on the air for the CBS This Morning cut-in at 7:25 and I knew then - it was going to be bad.

I was sitting in my office across from one of my fresh-faced-first-job-journalists just back from the Poynter Institute. She is newly inspired and I'm unpacking all she learned. The alert crosses my phone: Alison Parker and Adam Ward are dead.

It stopped me.
I fired off a quick e-mail to my staff: We will not be using the video. I didn't even think. I just hit send. It was like a reflex.

Then I went into the conference room for the morning editorial meeting. I bet TV newsrooms across the country had awkward morning meetings like ours this morning. We debated: Do we cover this from city council or preview that? Should we follow up on this bus story? I was trying to hard to listen and weigh in on story assignments but I couldn't hear any words. My Assistant News Director sounded like the Charlie Brown teacher. Time had stopped. I couldn't hear words.

I fired off a couple of e-mails to trusted mentors about the ethics of showing the video. Was my knee-jerk reaction the right decision?

I tuned back into the meeting. It had started with "Man, this is crazy." "So sad." "Did you see his fiancee' was the morning producer and she was in the booth and saw the whole thing?" "Any updates on if they caught the guy?"

Then the time came to talk about the video. Are we going to show it? I think Brene' Brown was whispering in my ear or something. I was trying to be so strong, y'all. But I sat there at the head of the table and shed a tear. I was just honest. Vulnerable. I told my staff: I can't hear anything. I can't focus. This is so terrible. I need your help to weigh the ethics of this video.

There were conference calls and logistics planning e-mails and updates to the story through the day.

In the middle of all of this, I found out my Granny Nora had a heart attack and for about an hour, I didn't know what was going on with her and if this crazy day was going to end at the airport, catching an emergency flight to California.

My morning anchor stood in my door as I got off the phone with my mom. I was almost in ugly-cry mode at this point. He told me to breathe. He was right. Air is good. (Granny is doing okay now, by the way.)

As I have gotten older, the churning has gotten harder. I think some of it has to do with the insane amount of information that comes at us faster than we can even comprehend. I think it's also because I'm not 20 anymore. I've lived more. I've loved. I've lost. These are not just stories we are telling. They're realities. It's not just a line on a rundown. The responsibility of what we do weighs heavily on me.

And I lead with my heart. To a fault!
I suck at hiding my true feelings. I knew I needed to pull it together, so I had to get out of the newsroom for a little bit.

I came back and we went on with more meetings and coverage and planning. But my heart was heavy through the day.

To my fellow journalists: Breathe. Cry if you must. But we have realities to tell. Do right by Alison and Adam. We have to go on.

I bet this is how teachers felt the day of the Sandy Hook shooting. Numb. Empty.
But we have to go on. We have realities to tell.

Do right by all of the victims' stories we tell. It's easy to feel this one, I'll admit. I've been the young producer who was dating a photog in Roanoke. There are 24-year-old fresh-faced up-and-coming reporters who work for me. I'll see them in the morning meeting tomorrow. Sitting right back in that seat where I cried today.

It's not always easy to feel the hurt and the loss when we don't identify with it. The crime victim. The plane crash victim. The people who are not shot on live TV. We need to serve all of them, too.

Forgive me for my tears. They don't mean I am weak. I promise. I am stronger than I look!
So are all of you.
We have realities to tell.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Timehop: Then, now, and trying to let go of the "what's next?" life

I am a writer who requires a lot of space. I haven't had a lot of that lately. But I have had a lot of adventure!

Do you have the Timehop app on your phone?

Life is a giant Timehop, you know.
In the wise words of Truvy, "Honey, time marches on and eventually you realize it is marchin' across your face."

This morning, I had an hour of quiet on the patio. Well, after Brokaw begged me to bring his blanket out there so he could join me. God forbid he lay on the actual ground, you know, like a dog.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude. For where I am. Right here on this back porch.

I never thought I'd be here.
In Myrtle Beach. Random.

I didn't think I wanted to be a News Director.


As I scan the app on my phone, I see a girl at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. A girl sitting for new head shots because she's all about blogging and writing. An eager crossfitter. An exhausted caregiver. A girl who learns how to bake. How to plant a little garden.

I hop from one thing to the next. It's all documented with those little graphics that say "1 year ago... 4 years ago..."

I am a naturally driven person. I came out that way. I never struggled with making and reaching goals. My struggle is that I'm addicted to it. I always have to be moving towards whatever the next thing is.

When I was a young producer, it was all about getting to a higher profile newscast. Then a bigger market. My big dream? DC. The White House. I did it. Then it was getting the big interviews on the campaign trail.

When it came to love, I slowly fell in love with a boy over the internet who I always knew deep-down, he'd be the one for me.

It wasn't until I got married that I faced things that I couldn't just hop over.

My husband's disability was a huge one. It rocked my world. Fundamentally changed me on the inside and the outside. I'm used to it now. I've made peace with "three."

A couple of years ago, I thought I'd turn the amp down on my career, move home, make a baby. It didn't work out like that. I was sad for a while.

But, now I look around here where I am, and I'm not sad I don't have a baby. I came through that and ended up in this place. This random place. Myrtle Beach.

It turns out, I love being a news director.

Time marches on.
I'm a grown-up now. Maybe some time soon I'll learn to stop thinking so much about where I've been and where I'm going and enjoy the right now.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Our New Life

The past few months have been as life-changing as any in our marriage.

Looking over our blog posts from northern Virginia, when we were newlyweds in way over our heads just wondering if we could make it through the daily routines, today seems like we've come full-circle but so much stronger.

Dana took a new job in Myrtle Beach in January. We anticipated moving in March because February is a big month for TV ratings. But the company insisted she take her new position BEFORE the February books. So we faced an enormous challenge:
  • breaking our lease
  • moving to a NEW STATE!
  • finding a new apartment
  • packing and moving
  • establishing all of our systems in our new home
We have never prayed for strangers as much as the family who would assume our lease. There was NO WAY we could pay two leases for a year. We loved our place in Virginia Beach and its location. Even our little community. We were finally on a day schedule and getting settled into life. Had even signed a two-year lease.

Before leaving for Myrtle Beach, Dana crammed in a weekend-long effort to pack everything we wouldn't need for the next month. She labeled each box and sorted things for the upcoming move.

Michael was set to hold down the fort while she found our new apartment.

Somewhere between finding accessible and affordable apartments and reviewing the moving package and costs we realized we could OWN a house for less than rent.

The home buying process was drawn out. We felt like every turn became an obstacle. We faced familiar challenges --nobody builds truly accessible stand-alone houses-- and new --nobody really wants to lend you money without a thorough and invasive background check. Dana collected a novel-sized binder of paperwork for the big purchase.

Our realtor found a couple to lease the place in Virginia Beach. And they didn't want to move in until the end of March. Perfect!

Week after week somebody pushed back us actually buying our house. Had Dana not persisted (with the creative intervention of our amazing realtor) we might have lost our house and ended up in an apartment last minute. Quite literally, it really was THE LAST MINUTE.

Four weeks grew into SEVEN long weeks apart. An ocean-front rental was just empty without Dana's whole family together. And Michael and Brokaw spent many restless nights in a half-empty bed. This reunion in our new home was long overdue!

Today Dana spends long days running the news department at her new station. This is a new, exciting, and consuming role. Michael is holding down the fort at home with the pets. We're still working trough the system to arrange for home health care and other basics. Dana is THE home health care again. We are familiar with that challenge. So, we are still in this transition.