Creason Lecture guest speaker to speak about newsroom tragedy

Will Wright

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August 26 was the worst day of Jeff Marks’ life.

Two of his employees, a reporter and a cameraman, were shot dead while reporting live in Moneta, Virginia.

A video taken by the shooter made national news, and his newsroom is still recovering from the shock.

Marks will talk about the shooting and how his newsroom are dealing with the loss as the UK School of Journalism and Media’s 2016 Creason Lecture guest speaker on Tuesday in Memorial Hall at 6:30 p.m.

In the newsroom following the shooting, people were all looking out for each other. Some employees are still grieving, and Marks said the upcoming one-year anniversary will be a tough moment for some people at WDBJ.

“How do you get over that?” Marks said. “It was strange and it still is, and recovery goes on.”

Marks said his 40 years of experience in the business probably helped him get through the tragedy. When other reporters interviewed him, he knew the right things to say, and what not to say.

Marks has held a variety of positions in the broadcast business, from the news director at WBKY (now WUKY), at UK, to the president and general manager of WDBJ Television Inc., in Roanoke, Virginia.

He worked as a reporter in Lexington at WLAP, as an executive news producer in Washington, D.C., and worked in New York during 9/11.

He coordinated five networks who covered the September 11 terrorist attacks. The worst part of that, he said, was not knowing what would happen next.

“It was very hectic and very depressing, of course,” Marks said. “The terrible part of that was just the constant toll of bodies and just how much that hurt to be witness to.”

Newsrooms are used to covering tragedy. When someone drives off a local road, hits a tree and dies, newsrooms are able to cover that without too much emotional trauma.

But on September 11, Marks said, the amount of death and the sheer number of stories detailing people’s loss was like nothing else.

It was one of his many defining moments in broadcast, but by 2001 he was already well established as a newsman.

Some of the stories that impacted him most were early on. In Lexington, he exposed corruption in the city council. He covered the tornadoes of 1973 in Frankfort, Louisville and Brandenburg. He also covered mining disasters in Eastern Kentucky.

Those stories — especially the mining disasters and tornadoes — showed him the human side to storytelling. The horror of the loss of life, Marks said, was meaningful to his viewers and to him as a budding journalist.

Marks said that being a student at UK during the coverage of the Watergate scandal pushed him to become the reporter he is today.

“Arguably the most important investigation of the 20th century was being played out,” Marks said. “Could you not be inspired to do something similar?”