Charleston Reporters Tell The National Story Of Local Violence The staff of hometown paper The Post and Courier feels the emotional toll of covering the church shootings and other traumatic events.

Charleston Reporters Tell The National Story Of Local Violence

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

For Charleston, S.C.'s hometown newspaper, the Post and Courier, it has been a very intense three months. In April, the Courier got its hands on a video of a man being shot by a police officer in North Charleston. And now, the regional paper is driving the coverage of the Emanuel AME Church shootings. NPR's Will Huntsberry reports.

WILL HUNTSBERRY, BYLINE: More than two weeks ago, unsettling signals started coming across the Post and Courier's scanner.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I copy several victims regarding that active shooter. Give me at least four medic units.

HUNTSBERRY: Reporters were dispatched all over the city, many to the church, where officer and police dogs were swarming.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: All units responding - 110 Calhoun Street.

HUNTSBERRY: Tony Bartelme, a 30-year veteran, headed to the hospital. He met the grandson of one of the victims outside.

TONY BARTELME: And he kept on saying, I'm lost, I'm lost, I don't know if my grandmother's alive now. And then, about an hour later, I just heard him scream.

HUNTSBERRY: The last few months have been an emotional ride for everyone at the Post and Courier. In April, they won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of domestic violence. In that same month, they were the first news organization to post a video of the shooting of Walter Scott by a police officer in North Charleston. They built a database of every police shooting in the state.

BARTELME: Twelve-hour days - nonstop. We were doing a six-month project in about a month-and-a-half.

HUNTSBERRY: The Post and Courier has driven the coverage of these national stories, whether being out front on the Confederate flag coming down or writing the definitive narrative of the nine people killed inside the church.

DEANNA PAN: We don't want to leave the office.

HUNTSBERRY: Deanna Pan is a reporter at the Post and Courier.

PAN: National reporters can kind of jump in and jump out, but for us, this is not just our job. It's where we live.

HUNTSBERRY: When I went to the paper, it was also the day of the last funeral. Bartelme was writing the story and haggling about column inches with his editors.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Fifteen to 20.

BARTELME: It'll be under 20.

It's a very addictive state of mind. You are looking for new stuff. Your mind is constantly on it. You're hard to live with.

BRUCE SHAPIRO: Journalists who cover highly traumatic events are as vulnerable to psychological injury as police officers or EMTs or firefighters.

HUNTSBERRY: That's Bruce Shapiro of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. He says the trauma is doubly hard for local reporters, who are part of the community and don't get to leave the story behind.

SHAPIRO: They are grieving at the same time they're reporting. Now, this can be a powerful source of mission, but it also can bring real stress.

HUNTSBERRY: When the shooting story broke, Andrew Knapp was about to have cake and sing happy birthday to his wife.

ANDREW KNAPP: And so I had to leave my wife and my children on her birthday to go cover - cover the news.

HUNTSBERRY: When I met Knapp two weeks later, he'd been working on a profile of Dylann Roof, talking to friends and family of the alleged shooter. He looked exhausted. His eyes were red, and he took long pauses, telling me about when he went home at night.

KNAPP: I usually had my radio off, and I would just sit in silence and - just reflecting on what I learned and my own emotions about it. And it was difficult to go through.

HUNTSBERRY: The paper is monitoring its reporters and offers counseling to those who seem like they might need help coping with the stress. Will Huntsberry, NPR News, Charleston.

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