Person holds hand in ‘gun’ shape up to ABC reporter’s head during live shot

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An ABC News correspondent was finishing up a live shot on the broadcast’s Nov. 12, 2023, edition, when a passerby formed the shape of a gun with his hand and pointed it at her head.

Reena Roy was reporting on a major New York City apartment building fire from lower Manhattan.

The broadcast returned to her standing outdoors, apparently standing on or near a public walkway. As she wrapped up her report, a person wearing what appeared to be a helmet of some kind entered from the left side of the screen and pointed his hand, which was being held in the shape of a gun, at her head.

The person continued walking away from Roy and could also be seen in the background with his middle finger raised.

Roy continued on with her report like a pro, though it wasn’t immediately clear if she realized what was happening.

Although the incident involved a “pretend” gun and not a real one, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility that it could have been real — which likely would have ended in tragedy.

Journalists are subject to a variety of harassment or pranks when out on live shots, ranging from drunk fans trying to take over the report to having things thrown at them or being verbally accosted.

Some journalists noted an increase in incidents like that after certain political movements began to vilify the press, particularly the so-called mainstream media.

As a result, many stations and networks are increasing security around live shot locations. Sometimes, they opt to set up places that are harder for the public to access or that have been roped off as a press compound.

At the network level, it’s not uncommon for live shots to take place under collapsable canopies that can also be, at least to some degree, used to create a barrier.

Some stations and networks are also dispatching security personnel with crews, but often a lone photojournalist is left to handle both the camera work and provide quasi-security for the reporter, themselves and the thousands of dollars in equipment TV crews often travel with (at the local level, some reporters are lucky to even have a camera person with them, instead operating as “one man bands”).

It’s not clear what precautions ABC took for Roy’s live shot, though it appears they were relatively weak given how casually the person appeared to approach her.

Unfortunately, ABC is not alone in being the victim of incidents like this. It’s also not always possible to rope off an area, depending on the nature of the story or conditions in the specific location.

Any outdoor live shot could easily turn deadly if a real gun were to be involved, given that many are able to be aimed and fired not only from point-blank range but also longer distances.

That, unfortunately, happened back in 2015 to a local news crew from WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia. A reporter, Alison Parker, and photojournalist, Adam Ward, were both killed in a shooting that happened during a live shot promoting a local event.

What’s particularly interesting about Roy’s life shot is that it really didn’t add anything to the story. She was positioned against a mostly dark background with dots of light behind her. No ruined building or emergency vehicles were plainly visible behind her.

In other words, aside from providing a brief update to the story that didn’t make it into the prepared package, having her join the newscast live didn’t actually bring much value to the story. She just as easily, assuming it was logistically possible for her to travel from the fire scene, joined the anchor in-studio for the final part of her report and essentially offered the same on-screen visual. Alternatively, the anchor could have mentioned any last-minute details.

For the west coast version of the broadcast, which is often updated to account for new developments or, like in this case, to remove undesirable issues, Roy’s live shot was completely removed.

It’s possible, however, given that the story was in New York, that ABC always planned to remove it for the west coast feed since that version airs largely in markets that are farther away from NYC.