Friday, April 20, 2007

Hokie Nation

Dedicated to the people of Virginia Tech, who were there to learn, teach, and live.

On this, the eighth anniversary of the Columbine massacre, there really is no way to make any sense of what happened in Blacksburg, VA at Virginia Tech University on Monday. Four days later it still doesn’t seem real. For me, I think I was too hung up on the amount of water that we were dealing with in New York because I was not in my usual “glued to the media” mode. There’s just been too much stuff going on with us, but I’m not out of touch with it.

What is it about this week? Oklahoma City (1995), Columbine (1999) and now Virginia Tech (2007) all happened during this week. Eerie, that's all - and symbolic of nothing...I think.

Anyway, it goes without saying that like the rest of the nation (at least I hope like the rest of the nation), I send my condolences to the victims families and those who survived. I heard this morning that today would be the day of mourning for our brothers and sisters at VA Tech, and in the spirit of that, people should wear the colors of the Hokies. So I’m doing that very thing – with a maroon polo shirt and a yellow t-shirt underneath that has orange writing (it’s a stretch but it works). Guess I was the only one in New Rochelle who got that memo.

As someone who has worked in the media, still dabbles in it occasionally (are you listening up there in Greenwich? I’m available! Hello!!??), and is a student of it, I watched what went on with the shooter’s manifesto very carefully. The reality of this is that NBC News, like ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX and virtually everybody else is in the business of ratings. They have to get ratings to get advertisers. Thus they get money…and there is the bottom line. As a news director, I think I would have felt compelled to air something from the video – sound, still frames, or actual footage. As a viewer/voyeur, I absolutely wanted to see it. It’s an important document to me, and I always use things like that as indelible images. They make me never forget the event. I’ll watch the images of September 11, 2001 because I want to be reminded of it every time. I want to remember the anger, the horror, and even the sense of good that existed briefly afterwards and now seems long gone. Just as with any other thing we see or hear, we have the option of changing the channel.

Still there is an outrage at NBC for showing any portion of the manifesto. The belief is that it will bring copycats to the forefront. The thinking is that since the VA Tech wacko got his stuff shown on the TV, why can’t we? It’s understandable for sure, but is it really that realistic? Anyway my concern is that the NBC executives and personalities (who have come off oh so well lately) have tried to spin this, when they should just admit that they did it for ratings. And that’s what everybody in the media would have done.

This was explained perfectly, some 25 years ago (!) when Don Henley sang “Dirty Laundry.” Listen to it today and you’ll hear the relevancy.

So as I sat here in my Hokie garb, I listened to a Richmond-based online rock station. They trudged through most of the usual stuff – Boston, Kansas, Skynyrd, Joe Walsh – until the DJ announced that the station would take part in the national moment of silence at 12:00. Just before Noon, they played a special version of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”, spliced with actualities such as President Bush, news pieces, and quotes, then the airwaves went dead for maybe 30 seconds, before some high energy station promo/ID kicked in. Then it was on to Derek and Dominos “Layla.”

I suppose we could quarrel with whether or not it was handled appropriately but why bother? That would be senseless, and extremely sensitive. Life goes on. But, even just for today, I’m happy to be a Hokie. Unfortunately we think we’re immune but the reality is that we witnessed a sad piece of history.

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