Guest Commentary: Reporters Take a Risk by Living Lives in Public

Nov 9, 2008  •  Post A Comment

I never met Anne Pressly. Yet, as a news director for more than a decade, I shared the grief her newsroom has experienced at KATV in Little Rock, Ark.
Ms. Pressly was brutally attacked and beaten in her home during the wee hours of Oct. 20. She died the following weekend.
The stereotype some viewers apply to the news media is that of cold, sensation-seeking, vindictive, agenda-driven savages only out for the next story. As one who has been there as a reporter, producer, anchor and news executive, I can attest that most journalists are as human as the person on an assembly line or in a classroom.
Our work is public. The job confronts conflict and opinion on a daily basis. That often makes us unpopular if we do not play into the perspective a viewer holds.
However, most broadcast journalists in a town such as Little Rock, or Memphis, or Wilmington, N.C., or Columbus, Ga., experience a warm relationship with viewers. One of Ms. Pressly’s colleagues told me she was the kind of person who was approachable. People would see her in a local grocery store and feel comfortable engaging her in conversation.
Whether we like it or not, those of us who have been on the tube nightly, even in the nation’s smallest markets, are afforded some degree of celebrity status. With the exception of a few rogues who have inflated views of their own self-worth, most of us do not see ourselves that way. Most reporters I know like people and enjoy a special relationship with viewers who invest their time in a newscast.
Sadly, what goes with the territory is the reality that a few nuts do exist in the audience. When I read of Anne Pressly’s tragedy, I harkened back to 31 years ago when my co-anchor at WTVM in Columbus dealt for more than two weeks with a telephone stalker. Even with an unlisted number, the caller persisted. The Columbus police ultimately nailed the guy, but not before my colleague was more than a bit emotionally disheveled.
My own life was threatened three times during my years as a reporter. Once the threat was serious enough that my news director, Dave Richardson, saw to it that I had special police protection for a while. The cliché “It goes with the territory” applies here, too, but the experience was nonetheless unsettling.
One of Ms. Pressly’s former colleagues, Emmy-winning anchor Cary Martin, told reporter Stephen Williams last week on a broadcast: “We’re all in a state of shock. We don’t understand this. And, to be honest, we’re angry. No human being deserves this … but in Anne’s case, you’re talking about one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.”
Most of us who have ever gone before a camera have done so for the love of the work. Yet you live with the realization that your daily prominence does make you a potential target.
Ms. Pressly may have gone on to become one of America’s best-known reporters. Then again, she may not have. We’ll never know. Because of some thoughtless and barbaric individual, she will never have the chance.
To add to Mr. Martin’s emotions: If you work in a television newsroom anywhere in America, it’s hard not to be angry about what happened to Anne.
Steve Beverly is professor of broadcasting at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and webmaster/originator of TVgameshows.net.


  1. I just hope they find the person that did this. I think it was someone that knew her. Anyway, very sad.

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