Our hearts are torn as we learn of the tragedy that unfolded
today on the campus of Virginia Tech University
in Blacksburg, Virginia. More than 30 lives taken by a
gunman. As I watch TV coverage and read stories online, my thoughts turn to a
day in April eight years ago as we learned of the horror at Columbine High School
outside of Denver, Colorado. In that case, two students killed a dozen
fellow students and a teacher.

In the wake of the Columbine incident, I wrote, “In times of
crisis, we demand the best from the people on the front lines of the story. The
cops. The paramedics, doctors, and nurses. The teachers. We should expect no
less from the people telling those stories.”

I can think of no better words to begin writing about the
role of journalists in reporting what has happened at Virginia Tech. A major
tragedy tests to the utmost news organizations and those who work for them.
Certainly those journalists who are on the scene in Blacksburg face profound challenges,
professionally and ethically. We count on them to steel their emotions as they
quickly gather information and as accurately as possible reveal pieces of an
unfolding, painful story.

In reality, all journalists across the land face challenges
in reporting this story. We may be producing newscasts for a cable news
network, reporting for a metro paper or local TV station, or blogging on the Web. We may be giving new developments in this latest case, reporting on trends
on gun violence in our nation or reflecting on the loss of innocent lives on an
April morning on a college campus.

Whatever our role, whatever our platform, we are journalists trying to put together pieces of an incomprehensible jigsaw puzzle and tell a
story that has meaning.

We report details that can offer some precision about what
happened when.

We relay interviews and quotes that reveal snippets of how
it happened.

We select pictures and video images that can provide some
semblance of who was caught up in this maelstrom of violence.

We search for words that can offer some perspective on why
it happened.

Journalists try to make sense of the senseless.

It's precisely during the worst of times that journalists must be at their best.