Thursday, August 30, 2007

Videotaping Death

Part of my job as a Producer for ABC News Magazines includes meeting people who have done horrible things or have had horrible things happen to them and seeing a lot of senseless violence. People always ask me how I deal with it and I often wonder myself. I think the day that I no longer feel sadness for others is the day I've seen too much.

A friend of mine - who I met while producing a story in Louisville, KY - Dan Chesser is the chief videographer for WHAS-TV. Dan was videotaping a breaking news story last week from the station's helicopter, and one of his cameramen Ron Johnson was 70 yards away from the action. The action was a bank robbery gone wrong and the police shot the suspect as he exited the door. WHAS decided not to show the shooting on TV.

Here are some of Dan's thoughts that were published in a local KY paper.

I was in the helicopter yesterday// But then we knew from the scanner traffic in the newsroom that things were winding down just before noon. After the four hostages were released, things moved quickly. The pilot was flying figure eight patterns so that we could see both the side and rear doors without going around the whole building. // The pilot has just made his turn and the skid cleared my shot and I zoomed in to reframe the shot when we saw Guy exit the bank. The next ten seconds will always be etched in my memory. We both could not believe what we witnessed. The camera is always in high speed shutter in daylight to sharpen the images. The streaks of red seem to show four to five feet in front of Guy as he fell to the ground. Toward the end, something flew away from Guy and landed on the ground several feet away, never figured out what that was.

I didn't know until later that Ron was so close and got the scene as well. As the news hour was about over, I heard through the radio in Sky11 that Ron was not feeling well afterward. When we landed at Bowman Field, I drove over to the scene and found Ron. What he had witnessed and the heat together was getting the best of him. We sat in the truck and decompressed for a few moments. We both in our careers had never witnessed something like this before. We both agreed that we hope that we never will again.

I was not involved in the decision making process to show the video but feel that the station handled things properly. Viewers needed to be able to see that Guy was leaving that bank at that moment to die.

No comments: