If you follow the Telling The Story podcast, you have heard several guests describe the process of covering a huge story.
But I have never interviewed a guest who had to cover such a story while dealing with the massive personal tragedy it brought.
Everyone at KOMO-TV went through it last March, when the station’s helicopter crashed in downtown Seattle, killing photographer Bill Strothman and pilot Gary Pfitzner. The journalists and employees in the KOMO newsroom suddenly needed to bring the news of a major story while processing their own emotions.
Katie Stern had worked at KOMO for nearly a decade when the crash occurred. She sprung into action and spent the morning as the roving photographer, collecting B-roll and gathering interviews around the scene; then she set up for live shots with reporter Denise Whitaker. All the while, she fought back tears and, she says, at one point could not keep a steady shot because her hands were trembling.
Stern is my guest on this episode of the Telling The Story podcast.
I received the immense privilege of listening to Stern last month when she spoke at the NPPA Northwest Storytelling Workshop. She shared the stage with Bill Strothman’s son, Dan, and the duo reflected upon the experience with composure and eloquence. Their presentation kept the audience silent and attentive; we were all confronted with the potential of finding ourselves in a similar scenario.
But regardless if any of us ever cover a personal tragedy, journalists everywhere can take major lessons from Stern on how to cover tragedies in general.
“I think that talking about trauma and journalism — and how the two are forever intertwined — is so important,” Stern said on the podcast. “Slowly we’re starting to talk about it more. I think there’s a stigma that comes with showing any kind of emotion as a journalist, and I’m really hoping we can wash that away.”
I completely agree.
I greatly appreciate Stern’s time and appearance on the Telling The Story podcast, and I hope you find her words meaningful and instructive.
Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.