I’ve Got a Job to Do

November 23, 2011 discussion, lead

By: Rick Portier

I hadn’t seen Tim in six months. It was at a graduation party. As always, he was loud and brash, and after making enough small-talk about the kids, football, and politics, I looked for an opening to ditch him. It’s not like we were fishing buddies or anything. We bought a house from Tim and his wife Natalie fourteen years ago. His old neighbors became our new neighbors, and by default, we began running in the same social circles. Tim, a bear of a man with salt-and-pepper hair and a Chicago accent, liked being the center of attention, Natalie, shied away from the gossip at the women’s table and looked after their kids.

I had just set my camera on its tripod. It wasn’t the kind of street corner that usually attracts news crews. Ranch-style homes with freshly manicured lawns awaited guests for Thanksgiving dinner. Neighbors huddled in their doorways and kept to themselves occasionally pointing at the interloper with the lens pointed at the house across the street.

“Show some respect, will ya?” The voice blasted through an open car window.

I guess it’s a normal reaction when vultures perch on the street sign outside your home. I learned a long time ago not to argue the first amendment with grieving son. “I’ll try. But I’ve got a job to do.” I’m sure the expression on my face and the tone of my voice weren’t exactly comforting. This was my second murder scene of the day, and it was barely noon.

He sped away disgusted, and I was happy to see him go.

I kept my distance from the family as I always do in situations like this. They had enough to contend with without a hack with a telephoto lens exposing their every raw nerve to the entire region. But I did my job. A wide shot of the house circled by a thin yellow ribbon, Crime Scene DO NOT ENTER. A medium shot of deputies clustered near the garage. A crime scene technician snapping on latex gloves.

Family members clung to one another behind a beat-up van. I spun my camera at them and kept the shot wide and tried to pretend I wasn’t looking at them. I told myself it was better than zooming in on a private moment. I still didn’t know what was happening, but scanner chatter told me there were two bodies inside.

Any anchor worth his can of AquaNet could whore this up in to a lead story, so I sat and waited for a captain who could give me the details. After a few minutes, the captain stepped out of the house, her face sickly and pale. She stepped before the camera, notepad in hand. She prattled through the details: time of the call, time of arrival, two dead inside – husband and wife. And names.

Natalie and Tim.

My knees buckled. “Whoa-whoa-whoa!” I couldn’t breathe. I stepped away from my camera and paced back and forth while the other crews on the scene just stared at me. I shook my head, tried to breathe, and stepped back behind my camera. I had a job to do.

The captain continued. “It looks like Natalie asked Tim for a divorce, and he shot her in the chest, then turned the gun on himself.”

I did what I had been taught. I called the desk and asked to be removed from the story. It would be forty-five minutes before another crew could relieve me. I aimed my lens at the front door and waited for the bodies to roll out, all the while making excuses: “It’s not like we were super-close.” “I always knew something was wrong between them.” “Better for the family that it’s me and not another crew that wouldn’t keep its distance.” But I did my job.

When does a story cease to be a story and become someone’s life? It’s a question I came to grips with early on in my career.

Today, all I can think about is when did it become a job.


  1. Jackie Sharkey says:

    Wow. Very powerful, thank you for sharing.

  2. Keren says:

    This is great, Rick. I hadn’t seen this until just now. I came across it by accident during a google search for a school paper. When’s the book out?

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