As a small-community paper, the safety of my reporters isn’t something I have to think about all that often.
We attract critics, sure, but not generally the dangerous kind who take their vitriol beyond a haranguing email, letter to the editor, or insulting Facebook post. Though I have had the experience of becoming a sort of confidante to someone else’s stalker, but that’s another story.
And when it comes to the kind of news we cover, we’re generally not risking life and limb.
But it was a discussion that came up this week as I had to decide which reporter to send down to Lewis Street to get the story on the big clean-up happening down there.
One of my reporters said flat out that she didn’t feel safe wading into the midst of it, having recently driven down Lewis Street and seen the extent of the problems there. One of my other reporters isn’t so steady on her feet and uses a walker, and was not suitable for the assignment. Fortunately, Robert Barron is pretty fearless and headed out, adrenaline pumping. But even he, when he got back, said he had not expected what it was like there. He’d had to move quickly to avoid someone who began screaming at him and threatening to grab his camera. There was definitely an element of risk involved in the assignment.
As reporters we regularly head out in the dark of night to places we don’t know to meet people we’ve maybe exchanged a phone call or two with. We have to make judgement calls all the time as to whether a situation will be safe or not. To mitigate the risk we let each other know where we’re going, and when we expect to be back. Anyone who may be sketchy gets an invite to the office. (Now don’t get upset — just because we asked you to meet us for an interview at the office doesn’t automatically put you in the sketchy category. Often that’s us trying to squeeze every minute out of the day. But it’s also something we do with a potentially volatile interview.)
Sometimes we’re reporting on potentially dangerous situations like fires, or crashes where we have to carefully gauge how close we can safely get while still staying out of the way of emergency personnel and keeping ourselves from becoming more a part of the story than we want to be.
The job can also take a psychological toll as well — an innappropiate sense of humour helps a lot.
So while reporter safety doesn’t come up that often, it is something that we have to consider in our line of work.