OPINION COLUMNS

Looking back at 2015: On the job training; Tornadoes hit Wise County in my first week

By Racey Burden | Published Saturday, December 26, 2015
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Tattered Remains

TATTERED REMAINS – Friends help the Campbell family look through the rubble of their former home. When the May 19 tornado hit, the Campbells were trapped in their house by fallen trees. The Bridgeport volunteer fire department rescued the couple, who were unhurt. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

I started working at the Messenger on a Monday in May. Tornadoes hit Wise County on a Tuesday. I got thrown into the middle of storm coverage on a Wednesday.

As far as first weeks on the job go, it couldn’t get a lot crazier.

Racey Burden

Racey Burden

Fresh out of college, I found myself in the backseat of a car with Joe Duty and Brian Knox, headed out to find storm damage, wondering what I was supposed to do. I wrote features and sports pretty much exclusively in school. I didn’t have much experience in breaking news, and I knew both Joe and Brian had worked for the Messenger for years. To say I felt intimidated would be an understatement.

I decided to essentially follow that new, but wise adage, “fake it ’til you make it,” and pretend around my more seasoned colleagues that I knew exactly what I was doing.

The first stop we made was at a group of mobile homes outside of Bridgeport that had been destroyed by one of the tornadoes. The men and women who lived out there were picking up the pieces of their lives, brushing off mud, trying to decide what was worth saving.

I felt uncomfortable immediately. No matter what people think of journalists, it’s really not true that all of us thrive on tragedy. I’ve learned that often the news is uncomfortable. Talking to those who have faced a disaster in their lives is never easy, but it’s part of the job.

And part of faking it ’til I made it was moving forward with a confidence I certainly didn’t feel.

Everyone was actually really easy to talk to. Some people are just like that – open books no matter what the occasion. Those make the best interviews. And while I did get some of your typical, “The tornado sounded like a train!” quotes, I also had a good conversation with one of the women about how a building on her property she called “a worthless shack” saved her life. That’s some good story material right there.

For the rest of the day, I stuck with Brian and Joe, following them into fields littered with debris and half-blown down houses. It felt a little more natural as the day wore on, but I never was fully comfortable approaching people to talk about the storm.

Breaking news isn’t always easy to cover. I’ve learned that over my past seven months working here. I’d rather write about pretty much anything other than wrecks, fires or tornadoes that tore down people’s houses. But news is news, and someone has to cover it.

Racey Burden is a reporter at the Messenger.

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