Should Journalism Schools Add Workplace Safety and Security To Their Curricular Offerings?

Wednesday’s scare for employees at WMAR-TV might raise a question about what we in journalism education can do to prepare students to thrive in instances where the security of their workplace is compromised, yet they have to cover THE BIG STORY, of which they are a part.

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The TV News business is a very small business.  Even for those like me who have moved away from the day-to-day TV news production, Tuesday’s events at a Baltimore area television station where a suspect drove a stolen truck into the building gave all of us in broadcast journalism a scare.

Here at the University of Alabama,  within the last month we’ve just started broadcasts from our brand new Digital Media Center and we have to wonder not only is our building secure enough, but how much should we as journalism professors prepare our students to handle situations like what confronted our friends at WMAR-TV?

One of the first pictures of the staff in the Digital Media Center.
One of the first pictures of the staff in the Digital Media Center, which is located in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

A decade ago when I worked as a news producer,  we had a disaster plan of action to COVER the biggest breaking news stories (a tornado, a plane crash, even a mass shooting).

But,  what happens when your OWN station becomes the story?    How do you balance staying calm while at the same time telling the news as it’s happening?

YOUR station is THE BIG STORY

Tuesday’s events in the Baltimore market happened to occur during what’s commonly known as “sweeps.”   The month of May is one of the four times a year when TV stations are particularly concerned about their program offerings and performance.   So, the employees at Scripps-owned ABC affiliate had to realize that their competitors were going to be all of the story,

A truck rammed into the front of WMAR-TV ABC 2 in Baltimore Tuesday. Photo courtesy of NBC Washington.
A truck rammed into the front of WMAR-TV ABC 2 in Towson, MD Tuesday. Photo courtesy of NBC Washington.

I can remember back at my first station (in my hometown of Richmond, Va.), at WTVR-TV,  in early 1990s, a man fell from our antenna casting the station into a major local story that was covered by our competitors, WWBT NBC 12 and WRIC-TV 8, the ABC station.

WMAR is owned by the E. W. Scripps company.

Scripps Senior Vice President Brian Lawlor applauded the WMAR employees for following their disaster plan and handling Tuesday’s events very well.
“We actually practiced evacuations within the past three months, ” Lawlor said.

But,  is there a teachable moment for up-and-coming young broadcast journalists  in all of this?

Newsroom Intruders Not a New Thing

In 2006, a 50-year-old was arrested after a more than two-hour standoff at the Spanish language version of the Miami Herald.   In this case, the suspect actually worked as a contractor  with El Nuevo Herald, and had problems with paper’s position on Cuban emigres.’

Since then in 2012,  a disgruntled man broke into WIBW-TV, the CBS affiliate a Topeka, Kansas.

Decades ago, ironically at ANOTHER Scripps-owned television, WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, a man stormed into the station then located downtown and took eight station employees hostage.  One of those employees, Elaine Green, who died recently, is remembered for her courage during the tense situation on October 15, 1980.

Perhaps it’s those stories of courage that we would be best served to share with our students as we urge them to have a plan for remaining calm in tense situations.

Unfortunately, workplace security breaches are a reality of the world we live in today.   It’s unfortunate that our friends at WMAR-TV had to be reminded of that this week.

It’s a good thing no one was hurt, but an even better thing that we can all be a little more intentional in our planning for disasters.

 

 

 

 

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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