Tragedies resonate with people for different reasons, but they almost always impact us all.
That’s what I thought as I listened to three journalists talk about their experiences covering the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. A man killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others June 12 when he opened fire inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. Labeled a terrorist attack/hate crime, the shooting is the deadliest mass shooting by a single person.
CNN Producer Jen Christensen, CNN Columnist John Sutter and Charles Minshew, a reporter with the Orlando Sentinel spoke Oct. 28 about covering the shooting. The panel discussion was part of College Media Association’s National College Media Convention in Atlanta.
The discussion was interesting as a unit, but one thing that struck me was how the trauma affected each of the panelists for different reasons.
Sutter said he felt personally attacked and unsafe because he’s a gay man. He interviewed a man who knew 17 people killed in the shooting. He noticed that the man could tell him about each of the people, but could not bring himself to say their names out loud.
Understand where the person you’re interviewing is in their grief and let them be in that place. I think you have to be human. The more vulnerable you are, the easier it will be for them to talk. Any story that you go out and do changes you… it gets under your skin.”
Minshew said he felt these people were attacked in his home because he lives in Orange County. He said he was proud of the journalists in the Sentinel’s newsroom for telling 49 stories in 24 hours.
The story quickly shifted from ‘here’s what happened at Pulse’ to ‘here’s who died.'”
Christensen said she focused on telling the story respectfully while fighting rumors and avoiding “straightwashing.” She also wanted to make sure reporters didn’t assume that people at the club were gay or “out” others for being at the club.
As a journalist, if you make the victims invisible, you’re going against your duty.”
The panelists admitted to getting lost in their work initially, then being hit by grief once the initial rush of busyness ended. Christensen said:
It’s overwhelming because you don’t want to take the time to feel it.”
Minshew said Pulse is printed less often in the newspaper today, but journalists still struggle with how to cope with the coverage.
It’s not forgotten… it’s become part of our history, of what Orlando is.”