The defining moment of my journalism career came 20 years ago when I stepped off The Oklahoman's eighth-floor newsroom elevator, heard a loud boom and saw smoke in the distance.
Suddenly, my Oklahoman colleagues and I found ourselves covering the biggest story of our lives, even as we joined our community in shedding tears over an unfathomable tragedy.
In all, 168 people lost their lives in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
I am reminded of the personal and professional turmoil of that time as I follow the exceptional local coverage of the Charleston, S.C., church shooting by The Post and Courier, that community's Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper:
Mother Jones suggests that Charleston's hometown newspaper is "putting awful cable news to shame."
I can't vouch for that because I don't, as a rule, turn on Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. I know you're jealous of me. (I do enjoy the excellent reporting and writing of CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke, as I've mentioned before.)
But this part of what Mother Jones says rings true to my experience:
From Boston to Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston, one thing has become crystal clear: To get real reporting—and to get it fast—you've got to switch off cable and go local. It's here you'll find the scoops, the sense of place, the authentic compassion; it's here you can avoid the predictable blather from a candidate, or pundit, or hack filling airtime. It's here you'll find out what's really happening to a particular group of Americans who have just been shoved into a tragic spotlight. Turn off the TV and Google the local paper on your phone. Find their Twitter feed. Follow their journalists.
One Post and Courier story that I found particularly riveting was the newspaper's "tick tock" account of the shooting:
That story recounts when Dylann Roof, the suspect in the shooting rampage, arrived at Emanuel AME Church:
At 8:16 p.m., Roof points his car into a space reserved for handicapped access and parks as close as he can to the church’s street-level meeting and office area. He wears a long-sleeved grey shirt and dark pants, even though temperatures soar into the 90s.
A half-minute later, he reaches for a handle to an elegant wooden side door, which leads to the Bible study room. It is left unlocked to welcome members and strangers alike.
He steps into the Bible study session and its dozen attendees, including much of the church’s clergy.
A 21-year-old white man, he is slight of frame and wears his hair in a bowl cut. He stands out. But to some gathered, he simply looks clean-cut and seems decent, almost shy.
Besides, in the AME Church, all people are welcomed with love, embraced by its members.
Saying little else, Roof asks who the minister is. When told that (Clementa) Pinckney, 41, is the church’s head pastor, Roof sits near him at a round table.
The group invites the guest to join their study of Mark 4: verses 16 to 20. “Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”
The double byline on that story belongs to Doug Pardue and Jennifer Berry Hawes, both projects reporters for The Post and Courier.
Hawes is no stranger to religion writing. She's a member of the Religion Newswriters Association and a former winner of the RNA's Cornell Reporter of the Year Award, which honors the best religion writing at the nation's mid-sized newspapers. She's a contest finalist again this year.
Hawes has been all over the shooting story, including reporting on the conflicting emotions as Emanuel AME members weighed returning — or not — to their home church Sunday:
By all means, click the link and read it all.