Ten days before my wedding, Thomas Hamilton walked into a primary school and killed seventeen people, sixteen of them very young children.
The media descended. I descended. I was filming an hour or so away and arrived on the scene as shattered parents waited for news, and local TV news crews slung their cameras, unsure as to whether or not to film. I was sure. Film first, decide later. Our job as television journalists was to bear witness.
We won awards for the coverage that day. Not awards given by relatives or viewers, but those given by our fellow television journalists. The hostility of local people, looking for someone to curse, was palpable. The curiosity of everyone else in the country, around the world, unquenchable.
My wife-to-be arrived too. She was a television journalist. In the next couple of days she was a regular at the police briefings. She got to know the Superintendent in charge of the scene. He was worried that the families and the community needed space away from news crews and notepads. She suggested that he ask news chiefs to quietly pull back. And so they did.
It wasn’t the kind of thing to take credit for, and she’s never asked for any or received any, and I – clumsy idiot that I am – made it the subject for our first argument of married life.
And – being, to this day, both clumsy and an idiot – I still think it was the wrong thing to do. I think the only thing that makes our post-modern society a society is sharing stories and telling stories, be they of tragedy or celebration. As John Donne wrote: “Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.” And we – journalists – we are the tolling bell.
But my wife disagreed. And she still disagrees. And she won the day.