The best news-gatherers in the country were slow to learn details of the Virginia Tech shooting spree yesterday, sequestered as they were in NAB/RTNDA sessions in Las Vegas. Most attending NAB president David Rehr’s opening address seemed unaware of the incident, or at least unaware of its magnitude--as Rehr outlined his vision for the association.
At 12:30 Pacific time (the shootings were reportedly at 7:15 and 9:15 Eastern time), as a luncheon celebrating Meet the Press host Tim Russert was beginning, Post-Newsweek president Alan Frank almost immediately addressed the incident. “It’s times like this that remind us that our business is all about,” he said. “It’s broadcasters’ responsibility to provide the news that’s so valuable to us all, and sometimes unimaginable.”
When the death count (32) was mentioned, the crowd’s gasp was voluble, which made it seem like many were unaware of just how grave the tragedy was. Indeed, many said they’d barely had a moment to check emails or tune in to television.
With that, the Blackberrys and cellphones came out as attendees checked in with home base. One veteran producer at our table commented on Russert, the Washington bureau chief for NBC News, being in Vegas with a major news story happening “in his backyard.” The producer then mentioned how Russert’s deputy surely had their hands full managing the reportage in Russert’s absence.
Further indicating that the magnitude of the event hadn’t yet sunk in, attendees focused on enjoying themselves, laughing as Russert passed along light-hearted Yogi Berra stories.
And the tragedy didn’t seem to affect attendance at subsequent sessions; Chris Matthews’ panel on new media and the election saw attendees sitting on the floor of the large ballroom after the seats filled up. We headed out while the audience was questioning the panel minutes from the end, and don’t recall the shooting incident being mentioned.