My heart breaks for the people at KOMO-TV. They lost two colleagues Tuesday morning in a helicopter accident.
My heart breaks for Seattle. We lost a photojournalist who believed with all his heart that local television news should be a force for good.
And my heart breaks for aspiring reporters who will never get a chance to walk in the footsteps of Bill Strothman.
I was fortunate to work with Bill during two summer internships with KOMO-TV. Except for a few emails and casual exchanges through Facebook over the years, we had not seen each other in some time. But you never really forget your mentors. And Bill was a good one.
When I’d tag along with Bill on assignments, he’d regale me with stories of how things used to be in television news — before consultants and ratings dictated news decisions. He challenged me to tell stories that would move people. In 2004, he connected me with his son, Dan Strothman, who was working at the station in Boise, Idaho, that I was about to join. Dan, also a photojournalist, offered me unvarnished advice about how to deal with some of the drama in that first job. I am forever grateful to both father and son.
In 2007, Bill emailed me after I’d contributed a story to Public Radio International’s This American Life about my experience as a rookie reporter in local television news. He wrote: “The push for ratings and the rush of live TV often puts us at odds with solid journalistic ethical judgement. Your story reminds us all that we are dealing with real lives here and we need to tread carefully. I’m very proud to know you. You will go very far in whatever direction you decide is right for you.”
Bill ended that email by telling me he was taking the plunge and leaving KOMO after 30 years in broadcast television. He was ready for something new.
At some point he started doing work for KOMO again.
On Tuesday, Bill died on the job. There are no words to describe the devastation his family and colleagues must be feeling.
I can only look back at these old emails and wonder what he would say about the state of the industry today. His perspective will be missed.
Tuesday’s accident should reignite an industry-wide conversation about the use of helicopters in the news-gathering process. More to say on that later.
For now, I just want to mourn the loss of a solid news man, husband, father and mentor.
Update 3:37 p.m.: The Strothman family sent out the following statement through KOMO-TV this afternoon:
Our family is grief stricken and in shock in the wake of the horrible tragedy that claimed the lives of Bill Strothman and Gary Pfitzner this morning. Bill was a great man, a kind soul, a devoted husband, a loving father and brother. He was a friend to everyone who knew him. Bill was a talented photographer who was a beloved part of the KOMO family for more than 30 years. We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and condolences from the community. We look forward to honoring his memory by sharing our stories, but for now we ask for and appreciate privacy during this difficult time.
This blog post, originally published at 12:22 p.m. on March 18, 2014, was corrected at 1:52 p.m. on March 18, 2014. An earlier version incorrectly said that Bill Strothman died Monday. He died Tuesday. Also, Strothman’s email to Tan was sent in 2007. A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that he sent the email in 2008.