The horrific massacre in the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado refocused a spotlight on an area already scarred by senseless gunfire. The echoes of Columbine underscore the shock of a community that now has to face the loss of more innocent friends and family members to an evil, violent act. When people begin to fear simple, everyday activities – and although there wasn’t any political motivation for this atrocity - make no mistake, this was an act of terrorism.
Naturally, local news crews mobilized quickly and relentlessly, not only in an effort to inform their public, but to also to reassure them. Though the entire world may have been watching, this was a painfully local story. While we were all watching, Aurora was experiencing. It’s a vastly different perspective, one that you can’t truly understand unless you’re there.
Many of the people who rushed to cover this story may have been thinking what so many others in the community were thinking: were any of my friends in the theater?
Reporters don’t just cover news events. They cover stories about real people that they know, living the lives that they lead. They may have all been to this theater before.
Stations like KUSA took the unprecedented step of moving their normal morning content to their KTVD digital subchannel to maintain their nonstop coverage of the massacre. Coverage was in full swing by 2:24 AM. On-air, streaming to their sites, on their Facebook pages and Twitter – the Denver stations were “broadcasting” on every media platform they operate.
This wasn’t done for commerce; it was done because it would be unthinkable not to. Broadcasters feel that this is their unassailable duty to their community, that this is how they serve the public. KUSA’s President and GM Mark Cornetta explains: “It’s times like these that we see the true value and impact that broadcasters have on their community. Being able to educate and inform our viewers about this ongoing story is our main priority and responsibility. I truly believe that everyone has demonstrated why local broadcasters are needed in every community and I am very proud to be one and to be a part of the great team we have here at 9News. Our hearts go out to the victims of this senseless tragedy.”
“First and foremost, that’s why we’re here – to report, support, honor, and help,” agrees KCNC VP & General Manager Walt DeHaven.
It would be inconceivable for anyone in Colorado to be talking about anything else that day. The people who work at those stations would be like any of us – if they weren’t covering it, they’d be watching it.
Social media posts to the stations – and also those reported by the stations – became primary information sources for many, particularly those outside the area. Even with the omnipresent on-air coverage, many locals needed more. The information was streamed live, providing a connection to those who couldn’t get the local broadcast. Locals who were on vacation, family members near and far, to all of us who were touched by the horror, the live feed gave them an emotional connection not available any other way.
The power of the stations’ social media was on full display as viewers were able to directly request information to best help victims and first responders. According to KCNC’s DeHaven, stations put out the word for donations of blood – within three hours, the blood banks were full. The Denver stations are now focused on spreading the word about the local charities directly involved with victims of this tragedy: www.GivingFirst.org and COVA (Colorado Organization for Victims Assistance) and www.coloradocrimevictims.org.
Warner Brothers, the movie studio that released The Dark Knight Rises, has reached out to Colorado’s governor to arrange an undisclosed but “substantial” amount to be donated to GivingFirst.org in support of the victims. A rival studio head who normally would be only concerned with box office results said that the only number that really mattered from this weekend was twelve.
It’s about the twelve who died and their families who had to deal with the sudden senseless loss. It’s also about the 58 people who were wounded and the scores of others who love them as well. It’s about the countless people in the area who will think twice about the things that they do in their everyday lives there. Simply driving by the theater will be a constant reminder of what’s happened right in their own neighborhood. And how many of the rest of us will wonder the same things in our own hometowns?
This was a story of unimaginable heartbreak, but the pain doesn’t somehow end at some geographic border. President Obama himself was compelled to visit the twelve families personally, but “not so much as President, but as a father and as a husband.” Instead of visiting, we do what we can - we watch, we read, we write, all to answer that insatiable human need to feel close to the community that’s suffering.
Fortunately, today’s TV station technology allows us to be a much more human and connected community than ever before. As DeHaven noted, “In days and times like this, I’m honored to be a broadcaster and to be able to help.”
We are all connected. Today, we are all Aurora’s family.