Surprise Spots

September 14, 2012 

As I wrote before, it's hard to know how people will react in spot news situations. Maybe most surprising is how people will talk so willingly to me amid tragedy.

That's how it seemed to be last Wednesday when I saw paramedics tend to Josh McCormick after a nasty wreck on Dodd Road near Burbank. The pickup he was riding in crashed into a parked semi on the side of the road. After getting some Hail-Mary wide shots,

I went around the ambulance to see what I could:

His parents Bob and Katy came toward us and talked to KVEW's Mark Harper and me for a bit, letting us know their son had a broken leg and some other details of the crash before agreeing to an on-camera interview with Mark after tending to their son.

Katy talked with paramedics after they loaded Josh into the ambulance,

and the two watched as MedStar flew him to the hospital:

I ended up cropping them out since they just look like bystanders in the shot and unnecessarily widen the composition:

Bob stopped by to talk to me, apologizing for not having time to be interviewed by me on camera, and before I could ask, he offered his phone number. I can't believe how helpful he was in what had to be a very difficult situation.

I stood around and waited for a sheriff's deputy to get the official line, emailing video clips and information back to the office before checking Twitter and Facebook in lieu of thumb twiddling when some woman started screaming at me to get out of there.

I was startled and made sure I wasn't inadvertently standing on private property as she yelled about how she had called her lawyer and would sue if any of this was on the news. As her screaming continued, I had a feeling like when you round a corner and are suddenly faced with a tiny yapping dog.

It got my adrenaline going from the surprise confrontation, but soon I was shrugging off the toothless threat and wondering what the deal was.

"You have no authority over me," I said, trying to stay reasonable in the face of irrationality. "I'm just waiting to talk to the sheriff's. If they tell me to move, I'll move."

She stormed off indignantly to get the deputy to move me. I knew I was within my rights, but felt a little nervous after all the recent legal issues between police and media. Plus, this was in Walla Walla County, and I had rarely dealt with their sheriff's office.

As they rounded the corner I could hear Walla Walla County sheriff's Deputy Gerrod Martin telling her that he had no legal basis to remove me.

He ended up being very professional, polite and helpful to me, which has been my experience with the vast majority of law enforcement I've worked with here. That didn't stop this woman from throwing a few more legal threats my way before leaving.

The funny thing is that I had no idea who she was before this started and I'm still unclear. The truck that Josh was riding in was marked with a local construction company and I had heard the driver was unhurt. I had noticed the sheriff's deputies talking to a guy in a patrol car, but he didn't seem to be under arrest or detained and I didn't bother photographing him. My thinking was that it would be a crappy shot with the tinted windows and glaring light and that photographing him might create some conflict. I'm assuming she was somehow related to the company or the guy.

Had the roles been reversed between these secondary subjects, I wouldn't have been surprised. I ended up unintentionally close to Josh as paramedics wheeled him into an ambulance after guessing wrong on which ambulance they were taking him to. His mom Katy was walking alongside as I backpedaled while shooting. Had she or Bob yelled at me, I would have understood where they were coming from. And really, I'm not that surprised at this woman's reaction in hindsight. A work-related crash like this could ruin a small company and nobody wants their mistakes publicized.

Still, I stand by my reason for being there. As with all tragedy, we report in the hope of shining light on potential problem areas and to serve as the public record. In my roughly five years of covering local spot news assignments, I've only been yelled at a couple times by people. I'd like to think that's mostly because I conduct myself respectfully and professionally, but who knows? There's no telling how people will react on the worst days of their lives.

Speaking of terrible days...

Several major newspapers opted to run a fairly graphic photo of murdered U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. It's a pretty serious photo and definitely puts you amid the horror, but I'm more shocked that the L.A. Times ran the photo than by the photo itself. I don't disagree with the decision, though, and I feel American newspapers typically err on the side of too much caution in these situations. Still, you could argue that running the photo just enflames the situation stateside. What do you think?

APhotoEditor has an interesting interview with Paul Melcher at Stipple to introduce a new method of maintaining some ownership of your work in the digital age.

Check out the artsy camera work of a mischievous seagull in San Francisco.

And thanks to Deadspin and Petapixel for featuring my football photos last week.

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