Seven Lessons About Covering Crime from a 50-Year News Veteran
He’s been beaten and berated for doing his job, but despite the dangers, Bob Aaron says he still loves being a T.V. reporter.
Those dangers made international news when two young reporters in Roanoke, Va. were shot and killed by a former co-worker on live T.V.
On this week’s Front Porch Podcast, Aaron tells funny and touching stories from his 50 years as a reporter, and answers the question, what keeps you going?
On being attacked on assignment in Clay County last summer
Aaron was investigating a complaint about animals being mistreated in a remote area of Clay County, W.Va. The farmer’s son confronted him.
“I decided I wasn’t going to get out of the road. I was on public property,” Aaron said. “I had a couple of second thoughts when I saw the guy was about 100 pounds heavier than me.
“He actually picked up the tripod I was using and swung it at me,” hitting Aaron and sending him to the hospital.
The man received three months home confinement and must pay the station for damaging the equipment.
When Sheriff’s deputies allowed him to get beat up
When Aaron worked in Waterloo, Iowa, he went to a mobile home park where a man was holding his wife with high-powered rifle.
Two of the man’s brothers jumped Aaron. It was cold and icy, a real “hockey fight,” Aaron said. But none of the deputies came to his aid.
“I was amazed that nobody was helping me,” he said. “Everyone was perfectly happy to let this guy beat me up while I was out doing my job.”
Why? Because police felt his station has compromised an earlier investigation.
When a dangerous situation was diffused by a lack of skill
Aaron went to cover a murder on the Logan-Boone County line, and ran into a potentially dangerous situation.
“The relatives were throwing rocks at me,” he said. “But their aim was pretty bad, so it didn’t become an issue.”
On covering labor strikes
One strike in Rum Creek, West Virginia became violent. Miners took their stand on a low-water bridge.
They would use steel cable to chain cars on the bridge. Coal trucks became battering rams, knocking the cars aside, while picketers ripped mirrors off the trucks.
One day, police attempted to clear the bridge. A woman was knocked over, and the crowd became agitated. Aaron worried about his safety.
“But instead, they push me up to the front, to get good video of what’s going on.”
On covering accident scenes with respect for the victims
“People say, ‘That’s my wife, that’s my brother, you can’t shoot that.’” Aaron said.
“You certainly don’t want to get in a fight with the father of some little child who’s been killed in an accident because you’re taking pictures there. You try to be tasteful and understanding,” he said.
“We’re not going to take pictures of an uncovered, dead drowning victim, naked, being loaded in an ambulance.”
On how the Virginia shooting changes things
WCHS staff have received training from police about “situational awareness.” They’ve been advised to carry an emergency trauma kit to stop bleeding.
Aaron says they were told this: If you are conscious five seconds after something happens, you have 80 percent chance of surviving it, but you have to do something to take care of yourself.
“The troubling thing about this is, maybe this is the first shooting of its kind, like Columbine was the first shooting of its kind. And you always wonder if some nutjob will decide to take advantage of this situation and do this someplace else.”
On why he keeps at it, after five decades
“I guess I like to be where the action is. I like to be on the street.”
Bob Aaron is a senior reporter/producer for WCHS/WVAH-TV in Charleston-Huntington. He’s worked for WCHS for 33 years.
An edited version of “The Front Porch” airs Fridays at 4:50 p.m. on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s radio network, and the full version is available above.
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