Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Lessons from Lewiston: Journalists share thoughts on covering mass shootings

Beth+Germano%2C+senior+reporter+at+WBZ-TV%2C+speaks+on+the+panel+about+how+to+cover+mass+shootings.+%28Annie+Zhou%2FBeacon+Staff%29
Annie Zhou
Beth Germano, senior reporter at WBZ-TV, speaks on the panel about how to cover mass shootings. (Annie Zhou/Beacon Staff)

Editor’s Note: While quotes from panelists are verbatim, the Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

On Oct. 25, 2023, 18 people were killed in a mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, just a couple hours north of Boston. Their names were Ronald Morin, Peyton Brewer-Ross, Joshua Seal, Bryan MacFarlane, Joseph Walker, Arthur Strout, Maxx Hathaway, Stephen Vozzella, Thomas Conrad, Micael Deslauriers II, Jason Walker, Tricia Asselin, William and Aaron Young, Robert and Lucille Violette, William Brackett, and Keith Macneir. 

The Lewiston community was not the only one ravaged by the effects of gun violence last year. There were 656 mass shootings in 2023—a figure that has only risen over the past decade. 

In reaction to this reality, the Emerson journalism department hosted a panel discussion called “Three Months Later: Lessons from Lewiston” on Jan. 25, inviting journalism students to learn how to cover mass shootings. The panel was moderated by Journalism Department Chair Lu Ann Reeb and featured local journalists and Emerson professors who spoke about covering active threats, implementing trauma-informed journalism, and fighting misinformation. 

Panelists included Beth Germano, senior reporter at WBZ-TV; Gerry Wardwell, the assistant news director at WCVB-TV; Ivy Scott, a Boston Globe reporter; Jessie Quintero Johnson, a trauma therapist and associate professor of health & social change; and Naa Amponsah Dodoo, marketing communication associate professor and the media psychology program coordinator.

Reeb posed questions to individual panelists about their experiences and expertise in covering these types of topics and how to handle traumatic experiences. 

Reeb: What was your experience covering the Lewiston shooting?

Germano: It seems very hard-hearted to say I’m just going to run all over Lewiston, Maine, and start knocking on doors and just talking to people. I call what I do “[entering] the box.” It’s not an easy job, and you have to be very sensitive about how you approach these families. You have to separate yourself from the grief and the sadness and just put that sensitivity into your story, but you have a job to do.

Wardwell: You have to be really sensitive and know that we’re probably in it for the long haul, that these are real people with real tragedies, and some of them weren’t even sure what happened. 

Scott: I remember driving up there debating whether or not I should tell my mom that I could be driving into an active shooter situation, and I decided that I wasn’t going to tell her. I do think in retrospect, it would have been good to tell somebody. I probably would call my brother the next time around. I think having someone who knows where you are in the situation is important. 

Reeb: How do you balance the constant changing of facts, being in a remote area, and your own personal safety? Plus, do you check your own emotions at the door?

Germano: I have to be tweeting, and I have to be sending out stuff on Facebook, and I have to be sending information into the newsroom and all that stuff is going on, just as you’re still trying to meet that five o’clock deadline. So it’s definitely a juggling act. You still have to be in contact with your newsroom and still in contact with social media and provide as many fact-based updates as you can.

Wardwell: As a newsroom manager, I have a philosophy when stories like this happen. I immediately realize that they’re not like other stories, and you pull out all the stops. I’ve tried to flood wherever we’re going with hopefully more people than we need. There are so many deadlines, so much pressure, I mean, the clock keeps going, and you just need the people to pull that off. 

Scott: We have a lot of people these days accessing the news digitally, and they want the news as it’s happening. So, we were posting updates almost every minute of the day. Just short blurbs about what we were seeing, what we were hearing, what was going on. Everybody was contributing to that, and I think it allowed for a pretty seamless and steady flow of information.  

Reeb: What effect does the reporting on various platforms have on the people consuming them?

Aponsah Dodoo: You have to fight with people who are spreading misinformation. You have to worry about who people trust online. You have various media channels. Do people trust you as journalists as sources or do they trust media that may not be accurate? There are so many ways on social media to have ways of credibility, but that may not be true. How do they process the information or get more information to figure out what’s going on?

Reeb: Can you speak about trauma in the context of the survivors and the people in the community at that point? 

Quintero Johnson: There is this dissociation when experiencing trauma. It makes it really hard to make decisions and to be able to share the story in a cohesive way. Community becomes really apparent and felt in events like this, and that’s also what happens during trauma. I think the work in telling these stories is to try to capture all of that, and it’s a pretty monumental thing that you all are doing. 

Students also had the opportunity to pose questions to panelists at the end of the discussion. Reeb reiterated that it is important for young journalists to be prepared for these situations, even though the necessity of it is distressing. 

“None of us wants the story of the Lewiston mass shooting or the now far too frequent mass shootings in America to make us numb to the reality of what’s happened,” Reeb said. 

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About the Contributor
Emma Siebold, Staff Writer
Emma Siebold (she/her) is a first-year journalism major/political communications minor from Spring Branch, Texas. She is also an associate producer for WEBN-TV and editorial assistant at Emerson Today. Outside of the newsroom, Emma enjoys training with the Dashing Whippets running team, listening to folk music, and obsessing over Marvel movies.
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