PERSPECTIVE: Covering Virginia Tech as a student journalist in Blacksburg

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PERSPECTIVE: Covering Virginia Tech as a student journalist in Blacksburg

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By:Priyanka Dayal
Posted: 4/23/07

I spent three days last week at Virginia Tech University as a reporter covering the heinous murder of 32 innocent people.

I had never felt so many things all at once. I had never been so nervous and so excited and so sad and so scared all at the same time. I had never eaten so much fast food, then slept for three hours then worked for 16.

I've spent this semester at Boston University's Washington Journalism Center, where I write for a newspaper in Massachusetts and intern at USA TODAY's main bureau in McLean, Virginia. Last Monday, I was sitting at my desk doing some mildly interesting research. That's when I heard the first reports that people had been shot at Virginia Tech.

The newsroom started bustling. What was going on in Blacksburg? Which reporters and editors would go? How many should go?

Mindy, a reporter who sits next to me and, for weeks, has been the best mentor an intern could have, started gathering some fresh notebooks and yelled over the wall dividing our desks if I wanted to go.

"Go where?" I asked.

"To Blacksburg!" she said.

That's not what I expected to hear. My heart started beating really fast. I've been a reporter, albeit a student reporter, for four years. I've never had that kind of an adrenaline rush before.

I know I should have jumped on the assignment. But I didn't. I got scared. I didn't know what to do. Did I really want to go straight to a place where a psychopathic killer had just stunned the world?

Yes.

Once we reached Blacksburg, I wasn't nervous anymore. I set about reporting the story like I would report any other story. I talked to people about the situation. But I wasn't always prepared for their answers.

Through tears, a girl my age, named Tina, who was in Norris Hall last Monday morning, told me about hearing gunshots in the classroom below her. She heard pounding. She heard screams. She heard maniacal laughter. Later that night, she heard all those things again in her dreams.

While Tina was telling me this, her mother walked into the room. They hugged and cried and stroked each other's hair. Clutching my pen and notebook, I could only watch. I thought I was going to lose it. How could any reporter not be touched by this? How could any reporter just be expected to say "thanks for your time," then move on to the next interview?

There were a couple other times I almost cried. I guess that makes me a sap. But by the second and third day, I was almost too tired to be sad. I couldn't wait to collapse into my bed in my motel room and fall asleep to the sounds of Sports Center.

It wasn't all horrible. It was thrilling, too. The story was appalling and gruesome and heartbreaking, but it was the biggest story since Katrina.

Every publication and TV station with the means sent people to Blacksburg. The parking lot of the Inn at Virginia Tech, where the press was stationed, was teeming with news trucks and satellites. Inside the building, reporters and photographers and cameramen seized any nook of space they could find to set up their equipment. People were filing stories from cramped hallways and bathroom floors. Everyone had laptops and cell phones or Blackberrys that needed to be plugged in. There was a constant chase for electrical outlets.

On Tuesday afternoon, I roamed the building looking for a place to charge my phone. There was one free outlet. It was right under FOX News cameras. The cameramen said I could plug in my phone, even though they were about to start some live shots. "Just play it cool," they said.

So I planted myself on the floor and took out a sandwich, which had been sitting in my bag for hours. Six inches to my left, Geraldo Rivera and later, Shepard Smith, were fumbling with earpieces and retouching their make-up. In other corners of the same room, Katie Couric, Wolf Blitzer and Tucker Carlson were also getting ready for live shots.

I met reporters from Norway and Australia, and one who lived down the road in Christiansburg, Virginia. Ten other people from USA TODAY were there. We had make-shift news meetings in crowded hallways then dictated our notes to editors in the home office. I was the only intern, but I was part of the team, part of a special group that shared the special privilege of telling this tragic story.

Priyanka Dayal, a senior in the College of Communication and the College of Arts and Sciences, is a former Science Tuesday and Associate City Editor for The Daily Free Press.

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Original Source:<a href=http://media.www.dailyfreepress.com/media/storage/paper87/news/2007/04/23/Opinion/Perspective.Covering.Virginia.Tech.As.A.Student.Journalist.In.Blacksburg-2874620.shtml>The Daily Free Press - April 23, 2007</a>

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Priyanka Dayal

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The Daily Free Press

Date

2007-08-13

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Sara Hood

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Matt Negrin <editor@dailyfreepress.com>

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eng

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Priyanka Dayal, "PERSPECTIVE: Covering Virginia Tech as a student journalist in Blacksburg," in The April 16 Archive, Item #1034, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/1034 (accessed October 23, 2014).