Keep your hands away from reporters | News, Sports, Jobs

David Busiek

Journalists need thick skin. Hard-hitting stories can generate many complaints, including abusive language and occasional threats.

It got out of hand this month in Las Vegas where a reporter was stabbed to death in his home. Police arrested an elected official who had been the subject of several investigative articles the reporter had written for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The public official ran an obscure municipal office. The stories alleged that he was a bully and had an inappropriate relationship with a colleague. The articles didn’t even make the headlines. But the official lost his re-election bid and now police believe he went to the journalist’s home and stabbed him to death.

Journalists are used to receiving criticism. We often cover people at the worst times in their lives or talk about things people would rather keep quiet. Due to the public nature of what we do, we also open up to people who are unstable or just plain scary.

I remember a photographer taking video outside a small town bank that had been robbed several hours earlier. There was only one teller inside the bank. As the police and FBI investigated, the cashier’s husband was inside the bank checking on his wife. When he came out and saw our photographer, his anger boiled over. He grabbed the photographer by the neck, pushed him and started yelling at him to leave.

As head of the newsroom, I had no tolerance for people getting their hands on our staff. We contacted the county sheriff, who immediately arrested and charged the man with assault. After things calmed down, the man was embarrassed about what he had done and apologized profusely to our photographer. If I remember correctly, we agreed to drop the charges – but I wanted to send a clear message: Keep your hands off our staff.

In the world of TV news, female staffers have a particularly tough time with creepy guys. We managers encouraged our staff to be active on social media to let viewers into their personal lives. It helps to build relationships with the viewers. What do they like to do in their free time? Maybe share some photos of your cute kids. But it can expose women to men reaching out and wanting to have a relationship with them or just writing inappropriate things about their looks. It’s quite unfair. Male staff members rarely face this type of abuse.

A male viewer went so far as to send love letters and gifts to a female presenter. This guy believed that when he watched the presenter on TV, she could hear what he was saying to her from her living room and she would respond to him through the TV. I called the guy to ask him to back off. He was definitely on the turn, insisting he was having a two-way conversation with our anchor.

I said, “Sir, television is one-way, not two-way. We can’t see what you’re doing in your living room.

He said, “You can’t tell me she can’t hear me – because she’s answering me!”

The local sheriff went to visit him to have him arrested, but it didn’t work. Several weeks later, he drove to the station and followed the anchor home. Fortunately, she saw him, and the police came and caught him.

I have always been grateful that law enforcement took these cases seriously and did what they could to protect us. Guess that’s to be expected in a state where Mason City anchor Jodi Huisentruit was never found.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that nine journalists have been killed in the United States over the past three decades, including four shot dead in the Annapolis Capital Gazette newsroom in 2018. That’s not counting Jodi Huisentruit or the journalists killed abroad. And now we have a journalist murdered in Las Vegas. Journalists must report suspicious activity and news consumers must find ways to express their opinions without aiming at the messenger.

Dave Busiek spent 43 years working in Iowa’s radio and television newsrooms as a reporter and anchor and the past 30 years as news director for KCCI-TV. He graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He retired in late 2018. This column is republished from Iowa Capital Dispatch under a Creative Commons license.

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