Q&A: ‘Roanoke Times’ Photo Director on Virginia Tech Shootings

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By: Daryl Lang

The Roanoke Times is in the middle of covering a horrific story in its own community: the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech that left 33 people dead, including gunman Cho Seung-Hui. The paper’s first-day photos of the shooting were picked up by publications around the world, and editors wrestled last night with the sensitive decision on whether to publish the unsettling pictures the shooter himself released to NBC. The Times’ director of photography, Dan Beatty, joined the newspaper six months ago from The Richmond Times-Dispatch. PDN spoke to Beatty Thursday afternoon.

PDN: Was it a challenge deciding whether to publish the picture of the shooter NBC put out last night? Your paper didn’t run it on the front page.

Beatty: We ran quite a few of those pictures on the inside of the section we ran today. We did have quite a few discussions about it. We felt like we had to go ahead and make that part of the history of this thing. We were sorry to hear that the university was concerned about the fact that so many people were paying attention to that.

PDN: Did the fact that those pictures were available through so many other sources play into your decision?

Beatty: No it did not. We didn’t even talk about that. We simply talked about whether or not it would be appropriate for us to run them.

PDN: You had some of the very first pictures of the scene. What was your strategy the first day?

Beatty: The first day we were just as surprised and stunned as everyone else was. We had five photographers out there very quickly. [Photographer] Alan Kim was out there early in the morning, thanks to Shay Barnhart, one of the editors out at the New River Valley bureau. That’s right in Christiansburg, which is right next door to Blacksburg. She found out something was going on and called Alan Kim immediately and told him to go out there. She and Alan really deserve the credit for those photographs.

PDN: Have you been swamped with calls from national media, people looking for pickup photos, that sort of thing?

Beatty: Yes we have.

PDN: How have you been dealing with that?

Beatty: We had to make some pretty quick decisions. We got so many offers and we were spending so much time dealing with that one issue, which was really not what we needed to be doing at that point. We appreciate so much the intense interest and people wanting to help us out with those. But we decided to go through AP. They’re the ones that ended up taking care of all the distribution and sales of the photographs.

PDN: What’s the coverage going to be like for the next few days?

Beatty: We feel a very intense responsibility to give this coverage the kind of depth people have a right to expect from us. The stories are very difficult to obtain right now because there’s been so much media attention ? which is totally understandable ? that the people we need to talk to are tired of talking. All of that’s understandable too. I’d probably be the same way. I probably would have retreated a long time ago. But by the same token, this is such a significant event, we hope we will be able to have enough dialogue with some of the individuals that they’ll be willing to let us into their lives so we can relay the experience. Not just that something happened ? something of the experience for our readers and other people who will be looking at this a long time from now.

PDN: Do you have any family or friends who are on that campus at Virginia Tech?

Beatty: No I don’t. You know, I have been receiving calls and e-mails from everywhere all over the country. It’s just been enormously gratifying to hear how much the professional community cares about this. Photographers, directors of photography, writers, editors, even some people who have recently applied for work here. It’s just incredible how focused people are on what really matters about this whole incident, which is the human element here. It’s just very encouraging. It makes us all the more determined to do our jobs the best that we can. We’re really feeling the support.

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