Tribune-Review Editor and Reporter Ben Schmitt received a call about the shooting Saturday morning from one of his sources and started coordinating the newspaper’s coverage. Around 9 p.m. that night, as the names of victims started coming out, Schmitt realized that he knew one of them, Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, who had been his doctor and his father’s doctor.
Caught up in the flow of work, Schmitt quickly texted his father to let him know – and only later realized that he should have called. His father had been devastated. They ended up talking on the phone during Schmitt’s 40-minute ride home late that night.
The next day, Schmitt had an idea to write a first-person story about his doctor and to interview his father. Schmitt talked about how when his family moved back to Pittsburgh, they lived around the corner from Rabinowitz in Edgewood and how Schmitt had scavenged an old Weber grill the doctor had left out on the curb.
The story ended up being one of the Trib’s best-read pieces over two days, and more than 60 readers sent emails with their own memories. Rabinowitz’s nephew in Israel connected with Schmitt over Facebook.
“You’re always walking a line when you inject yourself into the news,” Schmitt told me about his reluctance to write about himself. “I was hesitant until I had approval, and now I’m so glad I did it. … In this case, it was more than appropriate.”
Sheehan was reluctant to talk about his role in covering the story. He had been driving to Schenley Park for a morning run when the station called and told him what was happening. He met up with Williams, and they ended up providing hours of live coverage from the street.
Sheehan, who has been at KDKA-TV since 1992 and who worked for nearly a decade at the Post-Gazette before that, relied on well-honed skills to learn as much as possible and to share that information with the public in a matter-of-fact way.
“There is an emotional closeness and an emotional distance at the same time,” Sheehan said, “and your job is to give the most accurate, most inclusive picture of what’s going on, in a dispassionate way.”
Several local journalists talked about being in the flow of the work after the attack, trying first to tell an important story for the public and then to honor the victims with honest reporting.
Only later, in quiet moments, often after returning home, have they allowed themselves to feel the real impact of the people they interviewed, the information they gathered and the stories they told.
At a time when getting the news first often takes precedence, this week called for Pittsburgh newsrooms to find the right voice for telling stories about the victims and the shooter. That means being accurate and responsible, even as information comes in from multiple sources at lightning speed, WPXI-TV’s news director Suzanne Nadell told me.
“We talked about the tone of our coverage a lot,” she said in an email. “I’m not referring to influencing editorial decisions. Just remembering what it’s like to be part of the community that we are reporting on. Everything we do, we want to make sure we are serving our community.”
Andrew Conte, director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, writes the On Media column with support from The Heinz Endowments. You may find all of his columns here, and you may reach him at PittsburghPublicEditor@gmail.com.