Conference news
Posted: October 18, 2007 06:21 PM
Va. Tech Student Sees the 'Other Side'

Virginia Tech University senior Austin Morton was used to finding sources for her stories.

But when a student killed 32 others and himself on April 16, Morton found herself on the other side; she's the former resident adviser of the residence hall where the shooter, Seung Hui-Cho lived. National news organizations clamored for an interview with her.

"I can't even list them all on two hands," said Morton, one of three panelists at the "Covering a Tragedy" session at the ONA conference Thursday in Toronto.

"I'll just say that some were more respectful than others."

Austin Morton describes her experience being covered by journalists after the shootings

Respectful journalists were professional, articulate and straightforward about what they wanted, she said. The disrespectful ones included those who sneaked into residence halls, pressed sources who didn't want to talk and sensationalized the story.

The Chesapeake, Va., native never gave an interview, and the experience changed her feelings about her profession and her approach to covering stories.

"I now have some insight into how to properly cover a tragedy and simultaneously balance my occupational commitments with the emotions of those involved," Morton wrote in an essay for, a social networking and news Web site for college students. The essay, which focused on Morton's views as a young journalist, is one of three she wrote for the site three months after the shootings.

Writing her own story was therapeutic and allowed her to make sure her story was told correctly, she said. "I felt like I had found peace with it and I wanted to give other people peace in what I had found."

During Thursday's session, Morton advised journalists covering tragedy to be professional. She recalled a USA Today reporter who said, "I know this really sucks," when asking for an interview. Morton said she told the reporter the phrase trivialized what had happened and ended the conversation.

"In the digital age, when you have so much at your fingertips, the potential for excess is very great," said Morton, who has written for The Roanoke Times and several campus publications. "Just really, keeping your humanity in check. You are a person covering other people and you need to remember that."

Media coverage wasn't all bad, she said. Some of it captured the university's sense of community.

Morton said that she wants to work for a magazine, rather than a newspaper or other media that thrives on breaking news. She wants more time to reflect on what she's writing and put things into context.

-- Raechal Leone


What a strong young woman! Reading the full-version of her essay, I was blown away by her words, her observations and her conclusions. You can tell Austin has a great sense not only for journalism, but a great sense for humanity and general respect. Austin clearly understands what bothered her from that week of tragedy. And she remembers all too well what stuck with her from that week for the rest of her life, both good and bad.

I think what impressed me most is Austin's ability to not generalize "the media." She did not let a handful of overzealous and rude reporters represent the slew of the media that was there. Austin was able to recognize both the respectful, and the rude and overzealous. She is not reprimanding all journalists, nor is she saying that all journalists are bad. She is thanking those that were approriate, and questioning the ethics of those who were not.

**Kevin Aries, student of broadcast journalism at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT**

October 18, 2007 11:16 PM by Kevin Aries (Permalink)

Post a comment


Back to 2007 conference page

8th Annual Conference and Awards Banquet, Oct. 17-19, Sheraton Centre, Toronto

Questions about membership, registration or sponsorship opportunities? E-mail Executive Director Lori Schwab.

Questions about conference lineup or volunteering? E-mail Conference Chair Ju-Don Roberts.

Oct. 19, 2007 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.: Breakfast Discussion Groups (Sponsored by AFP) 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.: Community/Convergence Workshop: The Cutting Edge of Online Data 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.: Content/Design Workshop: Finding Your Voice Online 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.: Business Workshop: Leading the 21st Century Newsroom 9:45 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.: General Session: Membership Meeting 10:45 a.m. - Education Members Meeting, Expanding ONA's educational offerings, Dominion Ballroom 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m: Keynote: Michael Oreskes, International Herald Tribune 12:15 p.m. to 2 p.m.: Lunch on Your Own (Box lunch sponosred by 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.: Community/Convergence Workshop: Broadcaster Strategies for the Web 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.: Content/Design Workshop: Integrating Multimedia in Storytelling 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.: Business Workshop: Legal Panel 3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.: Community/Convergence Workshop: Revamping Your Curriculum for Online Journalism 3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.: Content/Design Workshop: Integrating User-Generated Content 3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.: Business Workshop: Advertising 2.0 4:15 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.: Coffee Break (Sponsored by Pluck) 4:45 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Journalism Next: Impact of Aggregators, Blogging and Social Networking on the Industry 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Reception sponsored by 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.: Awards banquet

Register Now:
  • CitMedia Workshop
  • Conference Registration Is Closed
  • Flash Workshop Is Closed
  • Video Workshop Is Closed

    Quick Links:
  • Full Conference Schedule
  • Panel Descriptions
  • Hotel and Travel

    OJA Finalists:
    The 2007 Online Journalism Award winners will be announced at the awards dinner on Oct. 19. See the list of this year's finalists.

    The 2007 Online News Association Conference is the premier conference for those who work in, or have an interest in, online media and news.

    The Online Journalism Awards have become the top awards in online journalism. Each year a distinguished panel of judges selects the very best work in nine different categories to be honored at the awards. The OJA Banquet is the event where the awards are presented, and the winners are honored for their efforts.