Philadelphia reporters have each other’s backs covering tragedy, trauma

By Megan Milligan

Tragedy can strike anywhere at anytime and reporters have to be there to serve as the eyes and ears of their community and the world. Justine McDaniel and Laura McCrystal have been there for Philadelphia during tough times.

McDaniel and McCrystal, of the Philadelphia Media Network, have covered events such as the May 2015 Amtrak train derailment that killed eight people and the killings of four men who were found buried on a suburban farm last year.

They describe covering the farm murders as an endurance test, with McCrystal reporting from the farm as police searched for the bodies and McDaniel in the newsroom writing the stories from the material McCrystal gathered.

One thing was clear, neither of them could have done it alone.

“We had each other’s backs,” McDaniel said, “One of us got too tired, and then the other one was too tired, we were able to keep each other going, it was really helpful.”

The hardest thing about covering a case like the farm killings is getting information, McCrystal and McDaniel said.

“This is where shoe leather reporting really comes in.” McDaniel said.

Social media can be helpful, but when stories are breaking in a reporter’s own backyard, knowing the people and places involved put local reporters like McCrystal and McDaniel at an advantage over national media.

“We had an intern who was able to give us the Snapchat screenshots because he was a local [person] who was around the age of the missing boys.” said McCrystal.

They spoke of the importance of playing the waiting game.

“You could be waiting for hours at a press conference that’s about to happen.” McDaniel said. “But it’s about who your calling and using your sources while waiting for information, trying to put yourself in multiple places at once can be a challenge.”

When covering a story involving tragedy and chaos, it’s important to go back to the basics. When covering the Amtrak derailment, McDaniels called 16 people to get information about one of the victims.

“It doesn’t matter that 14 [of 16] people hung up on me, I got the most important information from two people who didn’t hang up.”

Moral of the story? Don’t give up. With tenacity and dedication, while practicing compassion and sympathy, people will be willing to tell their story.

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