Dylan Lyons was only doing his job Wednesday afternoon. Reporting from the scene of a deadly shooting, the 24-year-old journalist for Spectrum News 13 in Orlando, Florida, was working to gather the facts about a tragedy in order to inform his community.
It was not an especially perilous assignment, though reporters can find themselves in risky places when covering a story. That changed when, according to authorities, the suspected assailant returned to the scene and opened fire again.
Lyons and a 9-year-old girl were killed. Another News 13 staffer, photojournalist Jesse Walden, was critically injured but is expected to survive.
This one hits close to home, and not only because last year saw the shooting death of Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press reporter Sierra Jenkins. She wasn’t on the clock when someone opened fire outside a bar in downtown Norfolk in March, killing three people — including our talented colleague.
No, it’s personal because reporters here in Hampton Roads — from our newspapers, our local television stations and other media outlets — know very well Lyons’ situation on Wednesday: dispatched to a crime scene, piecing together the details, and preparing to deliver that news to an audience thirsty for information but in a way that respects the horror of what happened and demonstrates compassion for the victims.
Our journalists and those across the region do this difficult work with determination and professionalism, as did Lyons. They strive to tell the stories of their communities with accuracy, sensitivity and clarity, gathering information in service to the public interest and the civic good.
They work willingly and capably, accepting the fact that there is some risk to practicing journalism in America. Working to inform a community shouldn’t be dangerous, yet journalists are all too frequently targeted by those with ill intent.
A cruel reminder of that came in 2018 when a gunman opened fire in the Annapolis, Maryland, newsroom of the Capital Gazette, killing four journalists and a member of the business staff. And in September, Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff German was stabbed to death; a Clark County, Nevada, elected official — who was the subject of Garman’s work — is charged in the crime.
Perhaps the most chilling echo of the Lyons case came here in Virginia. In 2015, reporter Alison Parker, 24, and photojournalist Adam Ward, 27, of WDBJ7 in Roanoke were killed when a former station employee shot them while they were reporting from a shopping center in Moneta.
The world is still an incredibly hostile place for reporters. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 67 members of the media were killed on the job in 2022, the majority of whom died covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine (15), drug-related criminality in Mexico (13) and unrest in Haiti (seven).
We can be thankful that the killing of American journalists is mercifully rare. The threats to a free press in the United States are more likely to come from a pen than a gun, from privacy laws that close public meetings and shield documents from view and from threats and intimidation — a growing and sinister concern.
The climate has unquestionably grown more hostile in recent years, and the invective once reserved for newspapers and cable news outlets with national audiences has seeped into the local discourse — as if the perceived sins of the Fox News Channel and the New York Times should be visited on far smaller outlets.
Never forget that local journalists are also residents of their communities. They have kids in local schools, get stuck in the same frustrating traffic backups, worry about area utility costs and are not immune to the scourge of gun violence that continues to ravage our country.
We can only hope that this tragic incident inspires some self-reflection among those who cynically put journalists in the crosshairs. Strong local journalism builds stronger communities; Orlando is weaker today for the absence of Lyons, a promising young professional doing his job on Wednesday.