I woke this morning to a message on Facebook that said, “Someone bring back my old New Hampshire.” It took me a minute to figure out that she was referring to yet another local murder.
Our tiny corner of the country usually only sees a murder rarely. Something absolutely unprecedented in my memory has happened recently – our newspaper has covered three homicide situations in the past three weeks with a total of six dead. It is simply beyond imagination.
And it’s not even the whole of it – last Thursday there was an incident in southern New Hampshire in which five police officers were shot and the chief of police was killed in an attempted drug bust. And there have been a couple of other shootings and killings as well. Are there even words for what is going on here?
During the week that we were intensively covering the Melissa Jenkins story, I reached out to two veteran news reporters that I know to ask them how they keep their sanity while also performing their jobs in the midst of such terror. I received amazing – and incredibly helpful – responses back from each of them.
One of them came from Jennifer Vaughn, a news anchor at New Hampshire’s ABC affiliate, WMUR. I met Jennifer several years ago when she did a feature on one of my projects. We’ve kept in touch periodically ever since. I was immensely grateful to have her in my corner sharing her wisdom. It helped a lot.
I’ve respected Jennifer’s work for many years, but never more than last Thursday night. Almost everyone on their news team knew the police chief. Many knew him because they’d covered his town; it appeared that some knew him personally.
Jennifer co-anchored about six hours of coverage with Tom Griffith, a long-time anchor at the station. I happened to be watching when they announced that the chief was confirmed dead. Tom was visibly shaken and had to gather himself a couple of times. Jennifer maintained a sense of purpose and calm, while also staying connected with her co-anchor and with her audience. It was an astounding show of grace and elegance (on both their parts – I was equally impressed by Tom’s ability and willingness to let the audience see him fall apart a little bit.)
Watching their coverage that night showed me how incredibly grateful I am that we have at least 12 hours and a physical piece of paper between us and our audience at the newspaper. I don’t think I could do what Jennifer and Tom did – report things as they’re happening with both sensitivity and professionalism. I am grateful that I have time to hear information and process it before I have to share it with the audience in a coherent way.
Today we covered a triple homicide in a small town about 20 minutes from where I live. Today I was again reminded of how grateful I am for that piece of paper. And also how grateful I am that there are people in the world like Jennifer and Tom who do what they do so masterfully. Goodness knows I wouldn’t want to have to.