DISCLAIMER: This is a rant about my frustrations in working on a small staff and how a usual day at work for me is.
Once again Colorado made headlines, although not many national, about another school shooting. And as usual we at the local paper were some of the first and last to know about it. I’ll explain how that is possible later.
I was leaving the house to get to another assignment when I received a frantic phone call from one of our news editors. He said that he couldn’t tell me how he heard but that he was hearing about “something big” going down at Deer Creek Middle School. I immediately changed my direction and went straight to the school. The problem with how we heard about what was going on is not that it came from a phone call. The problem is that we are strangled by a tight budget and DO NOT HAVE a digital police scanner that can listen to what is going on at the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department. Sure there are online options but they don’t work when I am rarely in the office.
If we had been listening to the scanner (that is if we actually had one) we could have been there much faster. As it turns out I was the ONLY media that arrived on scene at the school with the exception of the circling news helicopters. In the ensuing chaos I actually walked past the police line and was able to make pictures of students being evacuated from the school. I have yet to see any other major media with these haunting images.
Therein lies the next problem. I had no way to move images from my location because of our budget we don’t have wireless cards for our laptops. So while I had things no one else had, I had to find an open WIFI signal to update our website. As a matter of fact the first images we published online were from my IPHONE. I am embarrassed to admit that. By that time our reporter (emphasis on singular) from the Columbine office arrived and started gathering information.
This was great because we could fan out and cover more. This was also great because I needed to leave the scene to move a couple of images and then get to a state basketball playoff game. That’s right I was supposed to be in 2 places at once. I did as much as i could at the scene and left. I couldn’t stay for the press conference. Luckily our reporter (again emphasis on the singular part) is also a proficient shooter. He was able to get a couple more photos that added to the story. I don’t particularly think they were that great but they do serve a purpose (sorry, that’s the editor in me speaking).
He really has done a great job covering the story and keeping his schedule free to go to the various press conferences. Through one of his contacts, we actually got a call from one of the victims family’s who was still at Children’s Hospital. They wanted to talk and they wanted to talk only to us. Wow. We might be the local paper but under circumstances such as these we are usually invisible. This was great. I freed up my schedule for the entire day trying to anticipate when we would be allowed to talk to him.
That was probably my first mistake. We were supposed to talk to him at around 2pm. The hospital said we couldn’t because the victim was undergoing a “procedure.” I said OK lets reschedule later in the day. I was free after all. Hours pass and no calls. Finally the hospital says that its just not going to happen today. That is fine. I understand that the family is going through a lot and needs time to heal. I don’t want to do any unnecessary harm in covering this story.
I wake up the next day and realize that I am supposed to be covering 2 different assignments at 10:30am that are 15 miles apart. I do this all the time. Its not usually a problem but one of my assignments is in the outskirts of Evergreen and one is in Idaho Springs. So I have to allow roughly 25 minutes of travel time between each.
At 9:45am I get a phone call from our reporter (getting the singular part yet?) and he says that we can meet with the family at 10:30am. Wonderful. I call the other reporters from the other papers I work for and let them know that I am not going to make the assignments. Unfortunately for one paper, I have now missed 3 assignments (that the reporter has had to shoot) while trying to cover the aftermath of the shooting.
At 9:55am as I am heading out to the hospital the reporter calls and says that the hospital now wants to set up a “pool interview” with the victim. Guess what? I am not part of the pool. Oh for those of you who are unfamiliar with the “pool interview” what that means is that one TV photographer and one still photographer will shoot the interview while a couple of reporters ask questions. The footage/stills are handed out afterward and the credit reads: Photo by whoever, AP Pool. Not me. I understand the reasons for not wanting to have a media scrum in a hospital. However, we were contacted by the family first.
So I turn around and head to one of my original 10:30am assignments. I arrive late and make as many pictures as I can in several minutes. At around 11:15am, I get a call from the reporter that says the hospital is willing to let us in early. I am now at least an hour away from the hospital. Needless to say the reporter is on his way and will have to shoot and write this one. Another missed opportunity for me. Not happy about that one.
As it stands I am now in the office awaiting another assignment. More state basketball for me tonight. I usually love what I do, but days like these are becoming too common. I need a vacation.
UPDATE: Now that I am seeing some of the images of the victim emerging in other media, I am really unhappy I missed doing this. I think there was a lot of opportunity to make great photos.