The loss of two Roanoke journalists in a senseless shooting

Roanoke media is incredibly close-knit. For all the competition, reporters hold friendships across outlets. That friendliness is an outgrowth of long days spent waiting on politicians at events, taking turns asking questions of law enforcement officers in news conferences, and sharing space while covering the best and worst in human behavior.

I left the Roanoke Times before Alison Parker or Adam Ward came to work for WDBJ7, but I had worked with their counterparts in the broadcast field, some of whom were their coworkers at the time of last week’s shootings at Bridgewater Plaza.

I was called in by the Washington Post to help report the story, which put me in the odd position of working alongside old friends and colleagues, who were covering the deaths of two of their own, while I was representing an outside publication.

Both Parker and Ward had reported on the local roller derby leagues with whom I had such close ties. Parker reported on the Star City Roller Girls, donning skates, pads and a derby name, while Ward had shot footage of the NRV Roller Girls for a seperate story.

After what felt like a long day talking on the phone to those who remembered Parker and Ward; speaking to Sherman Lea Jr., who briefly was misidentified on social media as the shooter; and covering a news conference at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in Westlake, my name appeared as a contributor to a few different Washington Post stories covering different aspects of the tragedy and its aftermath.

The stories:
Two Roanoke journalists killed on live television by angry former colleague
Vester Lee Flanagan was ‘a man with a lot of anger,’ station manager says
Man who shot Va. TV journalists had troubled tenure at station, records show

Add statistics/data to your long list of journalism skills

Former deskmate Katelyn Polantz clued me in today to a story posted on Medium by Clay Shirky which cites changes at the Roanoke Times as another example of the decline of print media.

Shirky talks about the dearth of training at newspapers (not always true——in my experience there were plenty of webinars and training in social media, but few sessions on other topics or refreshers on journalism fundamentals) and encourages young reporters to build their skills, especially when it comes to working with data, social media and other journalists as parts of a team.

My newspaper experience sits at just over 11 years. That’s a cup of coffee compared to lifers who’ve bled ink for decades. Still, I learned a few things from the rapidly changing industry during my stint.

Despite the decline in the newspaper industry, I still believe there’s a future for journalists. Last year I spoke to the staff of Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times during its fall bootcamp.

I told them they should try to build as many of the following skills as possible: Report, interview, use the Freedom of Information Act, shoot photos, edit photos, shoot video, edit video, write code and speak Spanish. From Shirky’s essay, add data work and statistics to the list.

If you’re competent at all of those things, you can find a journalism job. If you’re really good at two or more and competent at the rest, it may be a job you like as well.

New endeavors for 2014

Fozzie OsbourneThe first few months of 2014 have produced a number of changes here.

Starting on Feb. 10, 2014, I started a new part-time job as assistant editor for Virginia Tech Magazine, a quarterly publication with circulation of about 200,000 that is aimed at alumni and friends of VT.

Disclosure-wise, this means that moving forward I will not be covering any stories directly involving Virginia Tech. Stories with less direct involvement will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. I’ll use this site & blog for disclosures as they come up.

The shift on Feb. 10 also meant the end of my work as a full-time staffer at SustainFloyd. I continued to work several hours per week through Friday, Feb. 28, but any future work for SF will happen only on an ad hoc basis.

This same time period saw other news for my family. We spent the fall and winter acquiring a small herd of dairy goats and starting this month have been milking on a daily basis. My wife started making cheese this week, with the intention of spending 2014 developing recipes and building a base of supporters with the hopes of eventually building the infrastructure required by VDACS to become a small farmstead cheese maker.

You can follow news about our goat herd and this new business, called Thickety Springs Farmstead, on its Facebook page or on my informal Tumblr page (note: The Tumblr account is my personal one and includes additional content as well as the farm-related photos & media).

Finally, the freelance business is slowly growing. I picked up two new clients so far in 2014. Look for more on that here on the blog and on my Twitter stream as those stories are published.

An ending and a new beginning

Last December I began a new chapter in my life.

After nearly 10 years at The Roanoke Times, I left to take a job with SustainFloyd, a non profit that aims to bridge the gap between rural traditions and the 21st Century global economy.

There are inherent risks in such a career jump, and it’s not a move I made lightly.

For more about the why’s of this, read on below the fold.

– Mason Adams

Continue reading