Staring into the abyss

“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” – Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

What can I say about the discussion, debate and general mood around the Minot Daily News newsroom this week?

Sure, there was local news in and around Minot that we debated and covered, there were visitors pitching stories, and there was good news to report – a savvy decision by the county on how to deal with its HR issues and the participation of key city leaders in an important educational workshop in Bismarck. There were more young people doing amazing things, making their families and our community proud.

Away from here by many, many miles, but resonating in American souls everywhere, there was horror and there was death. And it is hard for anything to overcome the spectacle of beautiful young people gunned down before they even had the chance to blossom into beautiful adults. There were heroes whose behavior brings tears to the eye, and there is an apparent villain who successfully made a million Americans of all races, religions and beliefs weep.

In the newsroom, first it is what? What exactly happened? What is being reported now that sounds like it might be legit and that which doesn’t? We know some early details online and on the air will end up being wrong – as the smoke grenade report apparently was. This was a weird period, because initial reports really didn’t seem to indicate mass loss of life. The first time I heard a reported body count, I was surprised. Typically broadcast will put the alarming on the forefront.

Who? This came out fairly quickly this time. Several in the newsroom are following different sources. Here I make an error in analysis. I tell a colleague that, knowing Parkland, we should be prepared to learn that the ex-student suspect is going to be like the majority of kids in that region – privileged, from a good home, no obvious motive, the nihilism of too many today. As it turns out, he now seems like he could be almost the opposite – the disconnected youth who barely hangs on to the dark underbelly of the wealthy, “safe” suburb. But there is still much yet to be learned.

How is easy. I’ve argued for decades that this law or that law is a useless gesture when it comes to stopping people who want to cause mass death. Those who are willing to plan, and/or those who are willing to sacrifice their own lives in exchange for killing many people can do it. Period. The gun argument is virtue signaling not a real solution. Most of us have WMD in our garages. The great lie too many politicians tell us is that the government can protect us from these kinds of attacks. It can’t. SO, the specifics of how will shade the subsequent talking head debate to the sense that it fits there agendas, but honestly, we’re fools if we think the how is difficult.

Why? Well, now. This is a question I suspect we as a nation will still be asking years from now. I suspect the complexity of the issue would define the wisdom of Solomon, much less the ample experience of my News department. Now I do know this. The answer isn’t easy. Easy answers – whether the absence of gun control, lack of adequate security, FBI failure or video games – are for children. When someone tries to sell you a simple explanation for how a young person goes this bad – that someone is pitching an agenda.

When you’re researching, pondering and discussing all of these things, the emotional impact can take a while. For me, it didn’t really hit until late the night of the shooting. Finally home, I was reading my social media. I lived most of my life in South Florida, have friends all over. Only in reading the various connections my network of friends had to the event did it start to sink in. Then, news continued to release details and I surpassed my bedtime, watching the news in the dark.

Professionally, what did we think about placement of the Parkland story? Given it happened in time to make afternoon drive radio, early and late news before the paper would hit the street, we didn’t use the latest reports on page one, but with local news anchoring the page.

It was the right decision professionally.

But that didn’t take the edge off the urge to just scream in frustration.

That’s how my week in the newsroom went.