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WDBJ Renews Focus on News After On-Air Tragedy

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Jeff Marks has been thinking about anger lately.

The WDBJ Roanoke president and general manager recently delivered a sermon on anger at his synagogue. He wasn’t talking necessarily about the former WDBJ employee who gunned down reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward, killing them this summer during a live shot, nor his own feelings after. Rather he spoke of a constant anger, how easy it is for someone to be mad at anything and everybody and for others not comfortable or willing to help.

Everyone at WDBJ has processed—and is still processing—the events of Aug. 26 differently. Some needed to take time off; others wanted to speak to the press. No permission was required.

“We’re letting things play out, trying to accommodate everyone’s feelings and sensitivity,” Marks says. “Are we better than we were a month ago? Absolutely.”

Counselors and trauma teams have been working with the staff; experts say the recovery period is six months to a year. Marks says it took a month to feel the effects of PTSD. “It hits with different people at different times,” he says.

The staff has a renewed focus on the news, realizing the mission that their fallen colleagues represent. “They need to earn that every day, keep looking under rocks for stories,” Marks says.

WDBJ has named the studio they are building “Studio A” after Alison and Adam, and planned a memorial garden outside the building.

Marks, who has been at the station for more than eight years, deflects praise for how he handled things. He says he simply had the right team in place.

The Roanoke community has offered seemingly boundless love and support to WDBJ, a CBS affiliate owned by Schurz Communications, soon to be acquired by Gray Television. For weeks, the staff couldn’t buy a meal, with people catering them morning, noon and night. “It makes you feel good,” Marks says. “It’s a little hard to get away from, but we just don’t worry about that now.”