Being in a Newsroom When Tragedy Strikes

There’s no other way to describe a newsroom after a tragedy than “somber,” “frantic” and “anxious.”

Today was the second time I’ve been in a newsroom when tragedy struck in the past year. Although I was not directly involved in news gathering in either situation, I got caught up in the mood.

The first struck July 20, 2012, the morning of my 19th birthday. I walked over to Newsy.com for my usual 7 a.m. copy shift, a little bleary-eyed after attending the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises,” to find the newsroom a bit louder than usual. Moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., had been shot. I froze. I could have been one of them, had it happened a few states over in Columbia, Mo.

It was almost as if the air weighed more that morning. Everyone, myself included, was frantically working, but in silence except to check progress. Our eyes, when not editing video (or, in my case, editing copy), were glued to TV screens and Twitter feeds, searching for the latest information. I was there when they announced the final count of those injured. I was there when they announced the suspect’s name.

I felt a bit of deja vu this afternoon. I was at the Missourian reading budget reports for this article I’m writing when, all of a sudden, people started talking in hushed voices and scurrying around. I looked up at the Missourian’s TV: “Explosion at Boston Marathon,” the CNN caption read.

Again, I froze. My mom’s entire family lives in Massachusetts. I have a cousin at Emerson College downtown. Who knows how many people I knew in the city that day, who all had off work to celebrate Patriots Day. Thankfully, they all were OK.

I watched as the Missourian’s community outreach team found the number of Columbia participants: 16. The team wanted to make sure all 16 were OK. I listened as others shouted Facebook reports, tweets and breaking news bursts across the room. Unfortunately, I had to leave.

Today (and July 20) showed the increasing importance of social media, especially Twitter, in tragedies like this. I got the latest information from at least a few dozen media outlets every minute. The Boston Globe’s website crashed, but it was still able to tweet updates. People let others know they were unharmed. People tweeted photos. People posted video footage on Vine. The collaboration of the community and the news media was astounding, giving those thousands of miles away a close look at the chilling events that took place today.

A fellow MU student tweeted, “The hardest thing about watching live breaking news coverage is the amount of uncertainty,” and I couldn’t agree more. Social media and 24-hour broadcast news outlets help alleviate some of that uncertainty, sure. But it’s still terrifying to sit and refresh your Twitter feed every minute, watching the number of fatalities and injuries increase with each minute, watching as they announce a fire in the John F. Kennedy library.

All of my thoughts go to those in Boston today. Here’s to hoping we’ve heard the last of the bad news and we’re just beginning to hear about all of the amazing people who have helped in some capacity.

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