EDITORIAL: When One of Us Hurts
“Today is a difficult day, and there will be many more ahead.” – WYFF News Director Bruce Barkley
Journalism is a small world. As with so many other professions, when one of us - or our families - hurts, we all hurt.
We are hurt, and diminished in so many ways, today because of the deaths of television journalists Mike McCormick and Aaron Smeltzer. They were covering the breaking news of floods in Tryon, North Carolina, last week when their SUV was hit by a falling tree. Clinton had a power outage last Wednesday, because a falling tree downed a power line; and we would expect linemen to fix it, to get the power back on as quickly as possible, to risk their lives working with high voltage, something they have been trained to do, and to mark it up as “just another day on the job.”
For McCormick and Smeltzer, last Monday evening was one of those - just another day covering the at-times-volatile weather of North and South Carolina. Maybe it’s just us, but that volatility seems to have gotten even more pronounced since the Hundred Year Flood of 2015. We journalists normally don’t go in first, certainly not as law enforcement officers, National Guard, emergency medical technicians and electrical linemen do when bad weather hits. But we are on “the front lines” reporting and warning - all journalists who’ve been in the business a while have stories about “watching the creek rise” and “keeping an eye on that cloud.” Sometimes, we’re even rewarded with rainbows.
For Mike and Aaron, there is no rainbow. Just a tragedy, and we all grieve with their families, friends and colleagues.
A little background - the place these two journalists were working is about 25 miles northwest of the TV station. “I had done an interview with Mr. McCormick about 10 minutes before we got the call,” Tryon Fire Chief Geoffrey Tennant said, “and we had talked a little bit about how he wanted us to stay safe and I wanted him to stay safe.” As the remnants of Subtropical Storm Alberto were expected to bring more heavy rains and mudslides, the chief told the journalists to be careful, too. “Ten minutes later we get the call and it was them,” Tennant said at a news conference, his voice cracking. The TV vehicle engine’s was still running and the transmission was in drive when crews found it. The men died instantly, said Tennant, who called the deaths a “freak of nature.” McCormick had worked for the NBC affiliate since 2007, and Smeltzer had worked in news in the region for more than a decade, according to WYFF.
Services for both men have been conducted.
News 4 Anchor McCormick’s service was Saturday, June 2, at the Central United Methodist Church in Spartanburg. Memorials may be made to the Spartanburg Humane Society, 150 Dexter Road, Spartanburg, SC 29303; Spartanburg Soup Kitchen, 136 South Forest Street, Spartanburg, SC 29306; or Mobile Meals Services, P O Box 461, Spartanburg, SC 29304.
Photojournalist Smeltzer’s Celebration of Life was Thursday, May 31, at Seawright Funeral Home in Inman. Aaron’s family would like donations to be sent to the Spartanburg Humane Society, 150 Dexler Road, Spartanburg, SC 29303; or Raintree Jacks, a Jack Russell Rescue, 1913 Watkins Road, Cassatt, SC 29032.
Journalists have died in war. Journalists died on 9/11/2001. Journalists are targeted by terrorists, foreign and domestic, every day in every corner of the world. “Observe and report” - and “warn others” in the case of McCormick and Smeltzer - has never been more dangerous. We have a healthy respect for danger; sometimes it just finds us.
(Information from Society of Professional Journalists, Region 3, and The Greenville News)