3: The fatal - Nothing is more chilling to hear on the police scanner than an officer reporting to dispatchers that a car accident is “Code Black.” That was the lingo in West Virginia for a fatal car accident. Although it was my job as police reporter, I hated going to the scene, especially for motorists who were ejected from their cars. I saw things that no one should see and would never be described in print, although I have no doubt firefighters and police officers saw much worse. It’s something I hated, but certainly was important for the public to have a reporter at the scene to get the most accurate information.
2: Grieving families - After each tragedy, the public invariably wants to know about the deceased, and no one has better information than relatives. People grieve in different ways, and it was my job to contact them for interviews. After finding their phone numbers, it would take me a minute - and a few deep breaths - to suck up the strength to dial those digits. After introducing myself and my intentions, I always offered my condolences. Each time, I tried to put myself in their shoes and consider how I would feel about a nosey reporter calling during a difficult time. But I found that many grieving relatives were happy to talk. I’m not sure if it was therapeutic, or they just wanted the public to know a little bit about their family member, but more often than not, I was met with little resistance. Even though it was my job to produce a story, much of me hoped the conversation helped console them. In a sense, I gave them a final chance to talk about their loved one.
1: The murder-suicide - Just a couple months into the job in Charleston, I had the chance to meet a man creating a customized motorcycle - ala Orange County Choppers - to honor West Virginia. I interviewed the man and wrote a full-page story about the creator and his motorcycle, which would be raffled off for charity. It was a story I was proud of. But just seven months later, I had to report that the man fatally shot his wife before turning the gun on himself. While doing a follow-up story, I interviewed one of his wife’s friends, who was in the house at the time of the shootings and she told me in chilling detail about how the couple’s two young children witnessed the killing. I wrestled with my role as a story teller and how it affects people’s lives. The hurt it caused the family weighed against the public’s interest in an important story. That report earned me a 3rd place award for feature story in West Virginia, but it still haunts me more than three years later.