Tori Yorgey did what no local TV reporter wants to do — her live TV shot went viral.
In a video that has been seen over 1 million times on YouTube and garnered thousands of shares on Twitter, the 25-year-old multimedia journalist with WSAZ-TV in Charleston, West Virginia was hit from behind by a passing car Wednesday evening while reporting on a water main break.
Yorgey hardly skipped a beat, immediately telling anchor Tim Irr “that’s live TV for you, but it’s all good,” while reassuring onlookers, and what appears to be the driver of the car, that she wasn’t hurt.
“I just got hit by a car, but I’m OK,” she says before adjusting the camera that toppled over, then moving to a safer location.
While her ability to bounce back with composure and humor has been praised — including by the hosts of TODAY — the viral moment spurred a larger conversation about journalist safety, especially the use of “one-man bands,” where multimedia journalists are sent into the field to cover stories alone, sometimes live. The video and subsequent media coverage drew the ire of some TV reporters who have been in similar, dangerous situations.
“It’s like seeing somebody fall off a cliff and bounce back up. It happens once in a while. It doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to fall off a cliff,” said Scott Libin, senior fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
Libin, who also worked as a TV reporter before becoming a news director for several stations in Minnesota, showed the video to his students Friday morning.
“When you go into those interviews, you need to ask questions about how these assignments are made,” he told the class. “And ask, ‘do you have the resources available and are you willing to spend the money to guard my safety.’”
Sending multimedia journalists into the field alone is not uncommon. Stations used to transmit live signals by way of microwave or satellite, which requires a second set of hands. But with the advent of portable transmission packs, journalists can report live without a photographer.
That doesn’t mean TV stations always send multimedia journalists into the field alone — some outlets have safety policies in place to prevent situations similar to what happened to Yorgey.
But many small-market stations rely on “one-man bands” for their live shots. Take Montana’s KTBM, for instance, where Lauren Steinbrecher once worked as a reporter.
“It was very bare bones,” said Steinbrecher, who now works as a multimedia journalist for the Deseret News’ partner company, KSL-TV. “There were only three reporters on staff, total, and we’re splitting all of the work — days, nights and weekends.”
When Steinbrecher worked in Montana, live views were as common as they are today. “I think having access to be able to go live like that changed what MMJs were doing and potentially put them in more dangerous situations,” she said.
Bad weather is often when those dangerous situations arise — exhibit A is Yorgey, who was reporting live in the dark during a freeze-thaw event.
Just a few weeks ago, Mike Anderson, also a multimedia journalist with KSL-TV, was looking for a spot to shoot alone in northern Utah’s Sardine Canyon. A TV veteran of 22 years, Anderson drove up and down the road looking for a safe location. When he couldn’t find one, he called the producer, told them it wasn’t possible, and filmed his segment from a parking lot in town.
Had he been in the early stages of his career, he might have taken that risk to report on the side of a slippery road, as many young reporters often do, he said. The culture of the newsroom also plays a role.
“I have no idea what her newsroom’s like,” Anderson said of Yorgey. “I worked in other newsrooms where you have a little bit more fear to motivate you. And I hope that she had more considerate support like I feel we have at KSL.”
In recent interviews, Yorgey has repeatedly said she never felt in danger. When she does feel unsafe, her boss is the first to tell her to leave, she told TODAY.
But she prefaced the statement by saying an industrywide conversation on the safety of solo reporting is “a conversation to be had.”
Journalists who talked with the Deseret News on Friday say the video underscores the unpredictability of live TV, and how having a second set of eyes can often prevent a situation from becoming dangerous. That goes for all situations, whether it’s a freak, weather-related accident like what happened to Yorgey, or incidents where people are actively targeting journalists.
“That’s one thing people don’t realize, we have no idea what could happen when we’re out there and when we’re going to shoot our video, especially if there isn’t somebody to watch your back,” said Jordan Verdadeiro, a multimedia journalist and ABC4’s southern Utah bureau chief.
Verdadeiro is almost always a one-woman show. “I only do solo live shots, being the only reporter in southern Utah,” she said Friday.
The morning she spoke with the Deseret News, she was reporting on the side of Old Highway 91 in Hurricane, shooting alone near the busy road as passersby slowed down and tried to distract her. One shouted “let’s go Brandon,” a codified, anti-Joe Biden phrase.
For female journalists, the dangers of reporting alone are sometimes elevated. Most reports suggest women in the industry are already subjected to more online harassment, and journalists tell the Deseret News that trend extends to in-person situations.
Take the viral video of Brianna Hamblin, a local news reporter from Rochester, New York as an example. Hamblin was moments away from going live when a man accosted her, saying “you beautiful as hell.”
“I never really had an issue when I was with one of the male photographers or videographers. But whenever I’m by myself, all of a sudden, I’m just that much more approachable,” Verdadeiro said.
Of course, having a second person on hand doesn’t guarantee a reporter will be safe in the field. The 2015 deaths of TV reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward, who were shot to death on live television while reporting for WDBJ7 at a shopping center in Moneta, Virginia, are still a painful memory for journalists across the country. The pair were gunned down by a disgruntled former colleague, who then killed himself as police pursued him.
Verdadeiro doesn’t fault the station where Yorgey works. “To be honest, I think everybody in that moment did what they could.” But given the video’s reach, she does hope to see a shift in how news directors and producers approach breaking news situations.
“I love being able to do my own stuff. I love going out and shooting my own video. I love getting my own interviews. I love writing my own scripts. I love editing myself,” she said. “... But what I would definitely like to see, in any newsroom, is just more communication.”
As for Yorgey, she told reporters she was moving on to a new job in Pittsburgh. She still appears to be in good spirits, despite getting hit by a car. Her boss took her to the hospital after the accident — in an interview, she said there was “a little bit of soreness, but it’s all good.”