By: Nu Yang
On June 18, 15 staff members of the Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, N.J.) were gathered together at a restaurant for a good-bye lunch for a departing colleague. Their lunch plans were quickly forgotten when they saw police officers outside with their guns drawn.
After retrieving his camera from his car, chief photographer Douglas Bovitt snapped a few frames of the action. When he returned inside, he asked metro editor Phaedra Trethan if there was a writer available.
“I’m a writer,” Trethan said. So, she grabbed her notebook, pen and phone, and stood outside in the rain under a hangar with a few of her colleagues.
“I was just writing what was happening,” Trethan said. “I made some phone calls back to the newsroom. We had no idea at that point what was happening.”
Trethan said digital reporting came into play. Digital editor Leo Caldwell communicated with the digital desk back in the office with tweets and real time updates as events unfolded in front of him. As more news organizations rely on citizen journalism, Trethan said their role was “to not speculate, but to just tell the facts.”
Meanwhile, Bovitt continued to take photos and videos and uploaded them to the web through mobile. “The first time I felt in danger was when an officer saw us standing under the hangar and told us to get inside and away from the windows.”
Executive editor Chris Mitchell said back at the office, she was also concerned about her staff’s safety as she received updates through text messages from Trethan.
Once the journalists found out a murder-suicide had occurred between a well-liked local doctor and her husband, the team knew they had a huge, emotional story on their hands. Bovitt said patients were still showing up for appointments, unaware of the situation. The team interviewed some of them, recording people’s immediate reaction on video. The reporters stayed on scene for about three hours.
Mitchell said her staff looked excited and worn-out when they returned. She knew there was more than one story there, so she asked Trethan to write a first-person account of the event; the article has since made national headlines. Mitchell speculated the attention was due to Trethan offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse of breaking news through the eyes of a reporter, and also due to the teamwork of her staff putting the story together.
“They’re a talented, highly committed group of journalists, so their excellent work was a given,” she said.
Looking back, both Trethan and Bovitt said when the unexpected happened that rainy Tuesday, they knew they had work to do.
“In this job, there is never time off,” Bovitt said.