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Worst nightmare for a journalist is becoming the story itself

Vester Flanagan guns down Alison Parker and Adam Ward

By Ivan Little

Published 27/08/2015

Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were killed on air as they worked on a live broadcast at a shopping centre
Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were killed on air as they worked on a live broadcast at a shopping centre
Ivan Little was exposed to several dangerous moments during a 29-year career in TV reporting
The shocking moment when Vester Flanagan started shooting

TV journalists know the risks. Or they usually do.

And after 29 years covering the Troubles of Northern Ireland and working in warzones overseas, I thought I'd been there, done that and got the flak jacket.

But yesterday in a sleepy American backwater they call Bridgewater in Virginia, all the journalistic norms were reshaped in the blink of an eye and the flashes of a madman's gun.

Watching the carefully edited footage of the shooting of reporter Alison Parker and her cameraman Adam Ward was sickening enough.

But what on Earth must it have been like to see the horrific live broadcast. Of death.

And to think the worst that usually happens during most live two-ways with the studio is an idiot making faces in the background.

For me, my limited experience of reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan was full of obvious dangers. And the perils were spelt out well in advance.

But even so, flying low over Baghdad in an RAF helicopter to avoid gunfire and rockets and returning to the airport via what was the world's most dangerous road, 'Route Irish', weren't exactly fun rides.

And hearing while on patrol with the British Army in Helmand province that the Taliban had been seen in the area brought a sense of dread that I'd never experienced back home.

Like every other journalist covering the Troubles, I'd had my fair share of narrow escapes.

On several occasions I was told by police that pieces to camera I'd recorded in south Armagh were shot just feet away from booby-trap bombs.

Another report was filmed beside a trailer packed with a massive bomb that was the potentially deadly handiwork of the Omagh bombers.

My closest encounter with serious injury, however, was when a crate of flaming petrol bombs was thrown from a building in Dundalk at a crowd of loyalists leaving the town after a Peter Robinson court case.

I was interviewing one of the DUP supporters when the fireball erupted at our backs, singeing my hair. Seconds later I would have been engulfed by the flames.

I count myself lucky, too, to have walked away without a scratch after reporting on scores of shootings, bombings and riots north of the border.

I still remember being strangely transfixed and spellbound after seeing a car bomb go off and watching as a bumper flew up a side street off York Road towards my head before an alert RUC man pushed me out of its way.

Paramilitary death threats became a way of life for journalists here.

But there was a sense that the terrorists would never actually target a reporter until courageous colleagues Jim Campbell and Martin O'Hagan were shot by loyalists. Jim was injured, Martin died.

ITN's finest reporter Terry Lloyd, who was a close friend, and Navan born cameraman Simon Cumbers, who was an ex-colleague of mine, were killed in Iraq and Saudi Arabia respectively.

But again they would have only been too aware of the dangers their jobs involved. Reporting on a tourism story in Virginia should have been the simplest of assignments on a slow news day for Alison and Adam - a slow day which became anything but that, with them tragically becoming part of the news instead of just reporting on it.

Belfast Telegraph

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