As Oregon observes the one year anniversary of the shooting at Umpqua Community College on October 1st, the people who reported on the tragedy tell their stories. A University of Oregon Journalism school project called Reporting Roseburg was released this week. KLCC’s Rachael McDonald was interviewed for the project. She spoke with the two women behind it, Assistant Professor Nicole Dahmen and Instructor Lori Shontz.
Shontz says they interviewed 19 Oregon-based reporters and put together a series of short video pieces that are posted online.
Shontz: “We think that as journalism educators and as scholars of journalism, we have a responsibility to say morally, what is our authority? What is our responsibility as journalists as educators to do this? And this seemed like a way to get to a part of the story that’s not always told, which is how is the news that we all consume, how is it all created?”
Some reporters are based in Roseburg and were on the scene at UCC right away. Shontz and Dahmen sought a diversity of perspectives from journalism students to veterans—like Register Guard photographer Chris Pietch who covered the Thurston Shooting in the 1990s. One common theme was how what was happening at UCC forced a fast change in reporters’ workday. Many just got in their cars and drove to Roseburg.
Shontz: “They didn’t have a lot of time. And they went. There’s a lot of muscle memory involved in journalism and even the reporters who had not covered something like this knew how to cover a breaking news story or how to do interviews. And then, on the scene, they had to figure out how to do that in a different environment. Because this was a bigger tragedy than most of them had ever covered.”
Dahmen: “What we wanted to do is share these first-hand accounts of what it’s like to be thrust into a situation like that, a situation in which you know families are experiencing the worst moments of their lives and a community is suffering. And it was really again powerful to hear these journalists talk about the ethical dilemmas that they navigated in covering families and how thoughtful they were in their approaches.”
Nicole Dahmen says reporters talk about the challenges of covering gun violence and how to report on the shooter himself.
Shontz says she plans to use the project in her classes.
Shontz: “Journalism is a craft. So you learn by doing it. So what we very much hope, particularly for the students I’m teaching this term, that they’ll be able to get a sense of, this is how it’s done, a behind the scenes, here’s a model I can follow.”
Shontz says it gives people who aren’t in news media more insight into the process a reporter goes through.
Shontz: “I think sometimes what gets noticed are the worst moments that we as a profession have and I think something that will stand out to anyone who watches these videos is how deeply the journalists care about the work they’re doing, how much it matters to them and how much they want to respect the communities and that they care about the people they’re covering even if they’re having fairly short interactions.”
Dahmen: “And in some cases the journalists spend a good deal of time and put a lot of reflection and thought into what would they have done different? What did they learn? How did it change them both as people and as journalists? And so certainly that can be a useful tool for journalism classrooms, newsrooms, a lot could be gained from someone who works in crisis communication from looking at this piece, or someone who studies media ethics.”
Dahmen and Shontz launched the project Wednesday. There was school shooting that day in South Carolina. Shontz says she wishes this project wasn’t going to be something that is needed in the future as the number of mass shootings continues to rise.