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It's a long story -- hardly worth going into here -- but after this place was declared a Brownfield Site, we abandoned it for the NEW! IMPROVED!! Not Now Silly Newsroom.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Murder and Morning Television

299 Queen Street West became the CHUM/City Building.
There are some news stories that hit harder than others. That describes yesterday, which left me bereft.

Back in the '90s, as many of you know, I was a News Writer for BreakfastTelevision on Toronto's Citytv. In many ways BT was, and still is, the template for almost every newsy, happy talk, morning show since.

However, not many people know that before I started writing news for CityPulse, I was hired at Citytv as a Security Guard. For several years I worked at the front desk in the lobby for 12 hour shifts. It was 2 weeks of days followed by 2 weeks of nights, both 9-9. Night shifts were easy. Once an hour I would walk around inside the locked 5-story building, rattling doorknobs and taking note of who was still working.

Day shifts were a whole 'nothing thing. One could be called upon to do anything and everything, from guarding talent live on the air on the sidewalk to finding a way to sneak mega-stars in and out of the building (which is why there is video footage of me and George Harrison doing a Walk & Talk; a story still to be written).

Any number of things could go wrong while doing live segments, all of them out of my control. Luckily nothing ever happened on one of my shifts. However, while setting up for live segments, I witnessed first-hand how people had a strange, proprietary interest in our on air personalities. Maybe because they came into everybody's living room, people felt they were approachable in ways that, say, Hollywood celebrities are not.

Whenever we were out in the field, the hard part was getting rid of all the people wanting to talk to the talent as we were about to go live. The potential for someone stumbling into the shot was always great. I stopped more than one person from walking up to David Onley while he was delivering the weather.

The Now Now Silly Newsroom chooses not to post the videos of this heinous act. If you absolutely have to see it, it can be found at: Vester Lee Flanagan: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know, which has some other good info.

One thing I never considered were guns. Because there are far fewer guns in circulation in Canada, it would never have entered my mind.

A screen cap from the gunman's perspective
When the news flashed across the Not Now Silly Breaking News Desk yesterday, I did as most people: started channel flipping to learn as much as I could. What was this? Domestic Terrorism? Foreign Terrorism? A grudge against a news department? A grudge against a tee vee station? Domestic violence? A Right Wing whack job? Left Wing whack job? Plain old whack job?

None of the above. It was Workplace Violence by a whack job, a very narrow category. A disgruntled employee held a grudge for 2 years before he finally went off yesterday. The gunman's rambling manifesto mentions grievances against the station and the 2 employees killed. He claimed to have been radicalized by the murder of 9 Black folk in a Charlestown church in June and described himself as a "human powder keg" ... "just waiting to go BOOM!!!!"

For maximum effect, the murders were timed to occur when the reporter was live, and for a while the footage was played on a loop on CNN before cooler heads prevailed and they yanked it off the air.

However, there were greater horrors to come. The assassin posted his own version of the murders on Facebook from his point of view. While both Twitter and Facebook suspended his accounts almost immediately, the video had already escaped into the wild and there is no pulling it back. Ever.

I have viewed all the video there is to see, so you don't have to. It's not a macho thing. It's a newsman thing. While it is the most chilling video I've ever seen, because you know what's coming but it takes almost 30 seconds for it to happen, it's not the worst video I've ever watched. That would be a tie between footage of the massacres in Rwanda and brains all over Highway 427 after a car crash, which the cameraman kept shooting and framing artistically and lovingly, even though he knew there was no way the footage would ever make it to air. I had to watch it to see what we could put on the air.

So, I watched the footage made by the gunman, knowing it would not be the worst thing I've ever seen. However, I had no idea how close to home it would hit.

I only watched it once (because once is enough), but can describe the entire thing. Vester Flanagan made Rookie Mistake #1: The camera is tilted to portrait, not landscape. As he moves closer to his targets, he adjusts the zoom, in and then out again. Then you see his hand holding the gun enter the frame. It moves from one person to another, as if he can't believe no one's paid any attention to him yet. Cameraman Adam Ward has panned off to the right and has his back turned to Flanagan. Alison Parker is so focused on interviewing Vicki Gardner, of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, that she doesn't even notice the danger as Flanagan waves the gun back and forth in what may have been her peripheral vision. Then the shooting begins.

I've been there! I've guarded live shots!! I have stood right there!!!

I spent the rest of the day shivering and reliving that footage in my head. This one hit a lot closer to home and a lot closer than I expected when I started following the story.

►►► R.I.P. ◄◄◄
Alison Parker and Adam Ward
both described as having a very bright future.