The struggle of covering a story that hits close to home

By Troy Pope

I woke up the morning of June 12 in the middle of the night. I looked at my phone around 4 a.m. and saw from a notification from Associated Press that there was mass shooting somewhere in the world. 50 people were dead. I put my phone down without looking where and why it happened ­­ assuming it was an ISIS­ related attack in the Middle East.

I woke up at 8 a.m. to get ready for work. It was then that I read that the 50 people who died weren’t killed in the Middle East ­­ they were killed in Orlando. 

As I got ready for work, I read more about it. It turns out it happened at some nightclub in Florida called Pulse. I got to work shaken up by the magnitude of the newest American mass shooting ­­ which, incidentally, was now the worst mass shooting in the history of the world. But it wasn’t until I got to my desk and turned on CNN that I realized Pulse was a gay nightclub. 

There I was. The only guy in the office that morning. Who knew that the only reporter in The Fresno Bee office that morning would be gay? 

I didn’t know what to do at first. I was frozen. Transfixed on the TV watching Anderson Cooper from his news desk in New York report on the shooting that had brought me to tears. 

It wasn’t until a few minutes later when a Bee photographer came to my desk from behind that I was jostled out of my shock. 

Did it make a difference who had been killed? No. But the fact that it happened at a gay club made it not just an act of terror, but also a hate crime against people in my community. 

We stood and watched the coverage for several minutes. Not really talking, just coming to terms with what had happened. It was then that I realized it was my job to do something. 

Normally in reporting breaking news, which is most of my job, there is no time to be emotionally attached to situations. People get shot or are in fatal accidents everyday. We usually go in, ask our questions, do our stories, and go about our business after. We are detached. 

It was just after 9 a.m. and I had calls to make. 

My first call was to try to get a hold of Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer. My second calls ­­ calls that a straight reporter might not have immediately thought to make ­­ was to two of the gay clubs in town. I tried contacting Club Legends and FAB Fresno. 

I went with the photographer to interview Dyer in person at police headquarters ­­ my first time meeting the man. It was quiet because it was a Sunday. Dyer had come in just to do these interviews. 

Reporters came to interview Dyer in spurts. I ended up in Dyer’s office doing the interview with KSEE24’s Megan Rupe. We asked our questions, and took our photos and video ­­ trying to localize the story for our readers and viewers. 

By the time I got back, my editor was in the office. That meant I had to pull myself together and stop taking private moments to shed tears over the situation. The pressure was on to do a good job ­­ to do my job in general. 

After all, at The Bee it would be difficult to throw a rock and not hit someone who has been in the business longer than I've been alive. 

I had my quotes from Dyer. I had my quotes from the owner of Club Legends. But it wasn’t enough. I’d written my story with what I had, but I needed more. 

I heard about a vigil at the Unitarian­ Universalist Church in northeast Fresno. Several reporters were there. Lindsay Henry from KSEE24 was there. Cory James from ABC30 was there. We waited and listened to the speakers and the prayers. 

After the vigil and a talk with the pastor, I raced to the Tower District to cover a march at the LGBT Community Center. Despite being gay, it was the first time I’d heard of the organization. 

Most of the media was there at this point. Just before the march began, Lindsay Henry came up and gave me a hug. I was so consumed in my work that I didn’t realize why. A few minutes later, it hit me that I know Lindsay, and she hugged me because she knew I was gay and knew that I must be struggling inside. 

When I realized that, I started to fall apart again. My eyes were wet, but I didn’t dare let tears form. I had to do my job. I had to film the march for The Fresno Bee’s website. At the march I saw people who I knew. When the march got to the Tower Theater, I saw one of my best friends and his roommate. They weren’t gay. They were reporters who were there on their day off to record the march and to show support to the LGBT community. 

I couldn’t talk to them. If I uttered a word I’d fall apart on the street. I stood just feet from people who I was close with, but I didn’t make eye contact because I didn't want them to see me cry while on the job. 

The sun was setting. I’d been on the job for 11 hours. Because of a scheduling issue, I was the only reporter on that Sunday. My editor told me to come back so I could be sent home for the day, but I wanted to stay to finish recording speeches. 

The second time my editor told me to come back to the office I finally budged and walked back to my car. I was exhausted. Tears ran down my face the whole drive back to the office. I had to sit in my car for a few minutes in the parking lot to pull myself together and try to hide the fact that I’d been crying. 

I went inside, and my editor told me I did a great job. I don’t talk about my personal life in the office ­­ beyond stories of my cat that is ­­ so there is no way my boss knew that I was gay. He had no idea how hard the day had been. He gave me a figurative pat on the back and sent me home. 

I went home ignoring my friends texts to hang out. I wanted to be alone. I’d finished an unexpected 12­hour shift covering the hardest story I’d ever had to report. 

The next morning I woke up photos some friends sent me of my story on the front page of The Bee. Normally it would have been cause for celebration. Instead, I just sighed, rolled over and went back to sleep.