Tragedy in Chardon

Posted: February 28, 2012 in Uncategorized
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It wasn’t the first time I received bad news on the hand held device on my day off from work. In 2009, I learned of pop singer Michael Jackson’s passing on the phone as well as the recent death of fellow pop diva Whitney Houston. Each time I received the news, my heart leaped. It is one thing to receive tragic news through voices on television and radio, but it’s quite another to get a short blurb on a Smartphone. To me, somehow the voices on TV or radio reduce the shock factor as opposed to seeing tragic events unfold in text form.

I received word of the tragic news from Chardon, Ohio on my Smartphone on the morning of February 27 from WJW, the Cleveland, Ohio FOX affiliate. That same sinking feeling hit me.  How could this have happened? Didn’t the school have security measures in place?

WJW is the station where I interned nearly 24 years ago. During my short stint at the then-CBS affiliate, we seemed to always be covering lighter fare including Cleveland’s hot, dry summer that year; the Monsters of Rock tour in Akron and of course, that year’s presidential race. The brouhaha of the Plain Dealer’s story on Vice Presidential Candidate Dan Quayle’s poor grades is small potatoes compared to what has happened in U.S. history since that time. Sure, crime was covered every day at places like WJW long before the late 1980s, but really, school shootings?

School shooting stories wouldn’t unfold until almost ten years after that internship. I was already a longtime employee in television news in the late 1990s when the world learned about places like Springfield, Oregon and Littleton, Colorado. It was always that same feeling of shock and helplessness in which I always had to overcome on each story. As I helped to work on the live wall-to-wall coverage on stories like Columbine, I always thought of victims as well as the survivors and those who knew them.  Perhaps it’s because I can relate to the scenes in which these shootings took place. They are scenes that are somewhat similar to my childhood growing up in suburban Cleveland. The victims and yes, the perpetrators are like people who I and perhaps millions knew from childhood. But, February 27th’s  tragedy struck much harder seeing the madness among the snow-covered landscape that I knew so well from my youth.

In an instant, the clichés come out with words that, “lives were ripped apart and changed forever,” and “such senseless acts.” Within hours, we hear about those involved with their stories in well-crafted reports from all mediums including traditional TV and radio channels to new media such as YouTube and social media sites Facebook, Google+ and others. We get to know psychology experts and law enforcement officials whom we never knew before appearing before local and national television cameras. After a little time to digest the tragedy, cable TV and radio talk show hosts along with their in-studio and call-in guests give us their slanted spin.

But, what happens when the satellite trucks pack up and go back to their mother stations? We hear words that, “the community needs to heal,” and “many have to start all over again.” Then, poof! The world moves on, but does the community? Well, we find that out on the first, fifth and ten year anniversaries of the tragedies, but we do not get a full reading on the situation, nor could we — for we would have to be with the community 24/7 forever and that’s about as impossible as making sense of a senseless act.


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