The precarious nature of a career in journalism

David Lyons, a respected journalist, was recently killed in a fatal shooting in a neighborhood in Orlando by an armed suspect who also shot his photographer, Jesse Walden. // Photo courtesy of Spectrum News

The reality for the field of journalism is that, oftentimes, reporters put their livelihood in the hands of communities every time they pick up their pen and notepad or set up their camera and microphone in unfamiliar territory. It is important for journalists to be cautious of their surroundings but, at the same time, “things can just pop out of nowhere,” Roanoke Times writer Ronald Harrod Jr. told the Technique.

As Harrod mentioned, things can take a sudden turn for the worse. This was the unfortunate reality for Orlando News Reporter Dylan Lyons, who was murdered on Feb. 22.

Lyons and fellow photojournalist Jesse Walden reported to the scene of a murder early that afternoon in the Pine Hills neighborhood of Orlando, where an armed gunman was on the run. 

Later that evening, the armed suspect returned to the scene. He opened fire on a vehicle containing Lyons and Walden, with both of them suffering bullet wounds. The gunman also fatally shot a nine-year-old girl at a house in the same neighborhood.

Walden suffered critical injuries, while Lyons was shot and pronounced dead on the scene.

Lyons loved being a reporter and Walden told the New York Post in a recent interview that “we liked to push the boundaries.”  

The death of Lyons left people across the nation in shock. It was especially worrisome for fellow journalists, as many admitted that this could have easily been themselves. However, the death of Lyons is not one that is unheard of in the industry. In 2022 alone, 67 journalists across the globe were killed while working in the field, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Moreover, in 2023, there have already been three official reported killings of journalists — with Lyon’s death being one of them. 

This poses a pressing question: how is that the same profession that is meant to help educate people on what is happening around them is the same profession that faces some of the most verbal and physical scrutiny?

“As a journalist you bring truth to the power, which is not an easy thing to do,” Connecticut Mirror Justice reporter Jaden Edison told the Technique

Historically, journalists have been viewed as individuals that seek to find truthful information and convey this information into news — no matter what it takes to get that information. Some notable journalism accolades have been awarded to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who investigated the Watergate scandal leading to the resignation of former U.S. President Richard Nixon, along with the group of journalists in the early 2000s who put out an extensive investigation on the sex scandals within the Boston Catholic Church. Often, these journalists were challenging powerful institutions and figures in their search for informing the general public. 

“This same ‘whatever it takes’ mentality can sometimes lead to a journalist’s own demise. When a person watches the news they typically want to see the scene, but is feeding the viewers exactly what they want, more important than the journalist’s life?,” Harrod said. 

Journalist Brent Renaud was killed in March 2022 while filming and documenting the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Referencing the similarities between the dangers that journalists face, Harrod said that “it seems as though over the past decades that journalists often get a bad misrepresentation of who they are. In some neighborhoods, people automatically think you’re the police or something and out to get them.”

This negative connotation of how journalists are often perceived, sometimes as “police” or “informant,” can put them in unsafe situations while out in the field. Additionally, journalists often face scrutiny well after a piece has been published, as viewers or readers feel as though they are misrepresented.

An instance of this disagreement between the writer and reader manifests itself in the example of the murder of Las Vegas journalist Jeff German. 

German was stabbed and killed in September 2022 by Las Vegas politician Robert Telles, after Telles felt resentment towards an article written by German that made him seem as though he was sexually assaulting his co-workers in the workplace. 

Telles felt that he was wrongly portrayed and made claims that this hurt his reputation and his career. As a result, he sought out to kill German. 

“Sometimes journalists subconsciously make the mistake of not thinking about the sensitivity of the situation and simply parachute into communities when things are at their worst,” Edison said.

“As journalists, it’s important to already embed yourselves in the community way before something happens, which helps establish the trust of those in the community,” Edison said. 

When asked how journalists can gain the respect of people while also maintaining journalistic integrity, Edison said that “our job is to report the truth, but I think [during] the process while doing that, fairness is important.”

He emphasized how it’s important to actually listen to people when it comes to practicing good journalism practices in covering varying communities, along with “[engaging] and try[ing] to understand where they’re coming from.”