Hi, Reddit! My name is Mike Gibbons. I was a cops reporter at a newspaper in South Carolina and later an editor at the paper. I've witnessed an execution, gone on a raid with Dateline, and been on plenty of ride-alongs. Covered car wrecks, plane wrecks, boat wrecks, train wrecks. Once had to throw out a pair of shoes because I realized I had been standing in blood at a motorcycle accident. I've had plenty of people threaten me over the phone for running stories about them. I left the news business for nonprofits a few years ago, but I always love talking about my time in the trenches. Ask me anything!

Proof: This is a print-out of a column I wrote in 2004 about said execution. https://imgur.com/a/MJHXp More proof: Here’s a link to that actual column: http://mikeslife.us/2013/03/23/the-execution-of-jerry-mcwee/ More proof (gosh I hope this is enough): Here’s an article from the paper when I moved to Charleston for a job. http://www.aikenstandard.com/article/20140809/AIK0101/140809485

Comments: 116 • Responses: 46  • Date: 

Dave_Hulud10 karma

How long have you worked in the industry and how has it changed from when you started to now (or when you left)?

Also, how was your relationship with your local PDs and how did you make it so that it worked (if it did)?

SCMikeGibbons15 karma

All told I was in news about 15 years. It's changed a ton. When I started, we were doing actual cut and paste. Cut copy with a razor, run through hot wax, and paste on a big mock-up board. We were a big, robust newsroom, and our goal was news, news, news. When I left, the recession and digital had crushed newsrooms (John Oliver just did a great piece on it). When I left, I felt like we were no longer generating news, but making widgets. If those widgets made profits, good widget! It was rather deflating. As for the PDs, I had a great relationship with them, and am friends with lots of them to this day. The key to making it work: I was fair. They knew that I was going to report what the community needed to know, and if one of their own was in the wrong, I wasn't going to brush it aside. But I was also happy to write the good feature pieces about them.

Arknell9 karma

As a reporter covering law enforcement and crime, where you ever asked by an off-duty cop or a man in a very nice italian suit to "cease your writing" on any subject?

SCMikeGibbons9 karma

Plenty of people asked me not write plenty of stories.

Arknell4 karma

Wow. Did you ever go to bed feeling you had published a piece that you knew would help someone, or cast light on something that otherwise would have been hushed down?

SCMikeGibbons13 karma

Sure. I took our job as watchdogs seriously. It was nothing on a large scale like Spotlight, but it's important to keep the community informed. I remember one story we ran (I didn't write it) about a great grandmother who couldn't get a passport because she didn't have a birth certificate. Her family was trying to take her on a cruise for her 90th birthday. We profiled her plight with the system, and got a legislator involved, who helped her get the passport. She sent us a postcard from her vacation. Those were what I called the high-five moments. You should see a newsroom when you find out she's getting a passport. The place erupts.

gonnaliveanddie9 karma

This sounds like an amazing job straight out of a tv show. How did you get into it?

SCMikeGibbons9 karma

First job out of college was as an editor of college textbooks. Lasted a year, and I had enough so I moved back home. Had a family friend who was at the paper and got me a part-time job writing advertorials. I was pretty good at it, and a position opened for the crime beat, so I just moved up.

gonnaliveanddie4 karma

That's awesome! Thanks for replying. Were you a journalism major or something completely different and just had good connections?

SCMikeGibbons6 karma

Majored in advertising and public relations.

Fuck-You-Dave8 karma

What is your favourite type of cheese?

SCMikeGibbons6 karma

Colby jack.

neodymiumPUSSYmagnet6 karma

Are nightcrawlers really a thing?

SCMikeGibbons7 karma

I doubt it. Certainly wasn't in my world.

Nirvanaboy6 karma

What was thing you saw that you wish you had never seen? Knowing now would you still cover it?

SCMikeGibbons12 karma

A woman driving four kids under the age of five hit a school bus head on. I got there before the coroner and walked right up to the wreck. I didn't sleep for days and I still get nauseous thinking of it. Knowing what I know now, I would have driven a little slower to the scene and let a perimeter be set up.

wittyinsidejoke5 karma

What's your biggest worry about the news industry right now, and what do you think can be done to help save it?

SCMikeGibbons11 karma

Check out John Oliver's piece. Sums it up perfectly.

RedditTrollin5 karma

What's the worst thing that has ever splattered on you?

SCMikeGibbons7 karma

A woman handed me some paperwork once that had, I think, mucous on it. It was disgusting. That said, I have two kids, so when they were babies, I'm sure they topped that.

suaveitguy5 karma

Any journalists or stories you read recently that made you wish you were back in the trenches of journalism?

SCMikeGibbons3 karma

Watching Spotlight was pretty awesome.

ChrisFutrell1 karma

It was so good! I loved The Insider as well.

SCMikeGibbons1 karma

I'll have to check it out. It came out right around the time my wife and I were adding small humans into the world, so my movie consumption took a pretty big hit for a few years.

hmprivate3 karma

what helps you to sleep at night? any mods? .. sounds like a quite intense job and probably the most things happen at night.

SCMikeGibbons7 karma

Exhaustion helped.

TheRealMC193 karma

Did you have any psychological problems after witnessing the execution? Although I understand it's a great journalistic opportunity, I don't think I'd be able to sleep for days if I witness somebody get killed before my eyes.

SCMikeGibbons5 karma

No. I had a lot of anxiety leading up to it and wondering if I should even do it. But I was glad I did it. Not glad that I saw someone die, but glad that I was able to share with our readers what the process is. It's important that everyone know about how that sausage is made. I linked a column I wrote about it in the proof above.

st_owly2 karma

Very powerful piece you've written there. Be proud of it.

SCMikeGibbons1 karma

Thank you.

TheRealMC192 karma

I read it, I found it was very much worth the read. I found it very interesting that you remained neutral on the death penalty and provided great reasoning as to why you see both sides of the argument.

SCMikeGibbons3 karma

Thanks. I don't think I mentioned it in that column, but McWee was one of two guys charged in the crime. The other guy took a plea deal and is serving life.

photonicphacet3 karma

What was your biggest story? the execution?

SCMikeGibbons3 karma

The execution was big locally, but the biggest national story was a train wreck that killed nine people. Huge chlorine cloud. I was an editor at that point, but it was such a big story, it was all hands on deck. I got to the scene (or at least as close as we could, about a mile away) probably an hour after it happened. If you've ever put chlorine in a pool, multiple that times 10. I had one of the first pics that went to AP (some first responders decked out in hazmat gear in the back of a pickup, one of them giving me a thumbs up). The AJC wrote an editorial about the wreck and train safety and used that pic. Here's the incident: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graniteville,_South_Carolina,_train_crash

Ry_Dog5663 karma

Have you ever refused to cover a story?

SCMikeGibbons6 karma

Sure. But they were often because they would not be of interest to our readers or were crazy conspiracy things. (Those folks love calling newsrooms.) If someone called and said Aunt Myrtle is turning 90, I would usually get them to send a picture in and we would run it. That's what community newspapers are for. For reporter stories, I always preached the three i's: Interesting, Important, Impact. A story has to have at least one of those. Rarely does a story have all three.

zeroReiZero2 karma

Did you face ethical dillemas while working as a cop reporter or know any story related to that? Anything you can tell us about that?

Why did you left that career?

SCMikeGibbons2 karma

I am an ethical guy to start with, so most situations are pretty cut and dried for me. Do what's right. And if you screw up, apologize and own it. I left because the industry was changing a new adventure presented itself. I still write a weekly column, so I keep a toe in the water.

GoodDealOnUm82 karma

Hey Mike, thanks for doing this!

I'm nearly done with a masters degree in English, so journalism is something I'm considering attempting to do. However, the conduct of a lot of journalists concern me. People hide in bushes, invade people's privacy with crowds of cameramen and sound crews, and other such behaviour that I'd feel bad for. Is this necessary? Does everyone do it? Are there ways round it?

SCMikeGibbons4 karma

I personally think that's the exception. The TMZ-type journalism certainly isn't what community newspapers are about. Even when you have to print bad stuff, you remember that you live and work in that community. You see people you write about - good or bad - at the grocery store. Their kids are at soccer practice with yours. You have to carry yourself in a manner in which you would still want to be part of their community. I hated when stories got national coverage, because I felt a lot of the out-of-town journalists didn't have proper respect to the community and the impact on what they were doing. Once they leave town, we still live here. My personal vow was never to be an ambush journalist, and I held reporters to that standard when I was an editor. We are people first, reporters second. We may have to write things folks don't like, but we do it fairly and end the day with our integrity in tact. I've got to be able to look in a mirror and like what I see.

ThisNameForRent2 karma

Were you given explicit guidance on how to handle/avoid race and crime correlation statements?

SCMikeGibbons6 karma

Most local crime stories are about that particular crime itself, so no correlation was included. But in a general sense, being responsible with stats and trying to provide an accurate account of what happened is a good standard.

YouJustGotJEWD2 karma

What is your opinion on mainstream media pushing their own agenda/viewpoint on their viewers to make them feel a certain way about something that is going on in the world? Especially if it benefits someone that they have "In their pocket"?

SCMikeGibbons6 karma

I think it's important to separate national media from community media. The vast majority of news organizations are local papers and tv affiliates. There's not really a bias there for the most part, as they're just trying to report on local stuff. On a national scale, I don't like how commentary gets interpreted as news. From a journalism perspective (and as a political junkie), I do spend most election nights flipping back and forth between CNN and Fox. I enjoy watching the different ways to present the same thing.

YourFavoriteBandSux2 karma

"The Paper" is one of my favorite movies. Have you seen it? Does it capture life in a newsroom?

SCMikeGibbons3 karma

Love that movie. Michael Keaton should be in every newspaper movie. The only bummer I have to tell you is that the stop the presses moment is way less exciting in real life.

YourFavoriteBandSux1 karma

Whatever. Just tell me you had a Randy Quaid kind of guy. I never went to J school or anything, but that's who I've always aspired to be. :)

SCMikeGibbons1 karma

Nah. Great character, but probably pretty restricted to the movies.

billypmacdonald2 karma

Are steroids an issue within the policing community?

SCMikeGibbons2 karma

I don't think it was in my community, but the community across the river from me had some issues with it it.

cookieomind12 karma

Has anyone offered you money in exchange for not covering their story in full detail?

SCMikeGibbons5 karma

Plenty of times. Always gave the same answer (as most reporters do): "You don't have enough money." The most often reason for the call was to get people out of the bookings. Each day, the paper runs the name, age and charge of everyone booked into the county jail. Had friends call me and ask to help them out. Nope. Sorry. We have to run them all or none, and right now it's all.

5bkb2 karma

Have you ever feared for your life?

SCMikeGibbons5 karma

Maybe not my life, but my safety, plenty of times. When you're covering crime stories, there are usually police there, so you've got that going for you. But there were a few times where I was worried I was going to get punched.

hmprivate2 karma

why do you say "former"? what happened? .. you look quite young.

SCMikeGibbons3 karma

Left for non profits. Had a good run, but the industry was changing, and it was a good time for a change and a new adventure.

hmprivate2 karma

how is the industry changing? .. less journalists on payroll?

SCMikeGibbons4 karma

Yep. 2008 + digital giveaways = tough times. I'm glad the newspapers are putting up paywalls. I wish they all would. It makes no sense to give away your product. When we dropped ours in the early 2000s, I was against it. It was the underpants gnome model. I just hope it's not too late to stem the tide.

crazy_eyebrows2 karma

What was your favorite story you've ever covered?

SCMikeGibbons2 karma

I flew on an Honor Flight with 100 WWII vets to DC. I traveled with them as they went to all the memorials, Arlington Cemetery, etc. Far and away, my greatest day as a journalist. Here's the story I wrote about it: http://mikeslife.us/2013/01/04/honor-flight-journey-of-a-lifetime/

crazy_eyebrows1 karma

Thank you for the reply. That was honestly the most detailed story I've ever read. Thank you so much for sharing with me. I bet that that was an amazing experience!

SCMikeGibbons2 karma

It really was awesome. Glad you enjoyed. Was so happy to have my family at the gate when we arrived, and having my kids see it all.

Wportgasdace862 karma

What's the most gruesome thing you seen at the line of duty?

SCMikeGibbons2 karma

See below re: four kids killed in a car wreck. Not a fun day.

DrDazzA2 karma

What would be something in the business that is not widely known to the public? Also, you have experienced such a tragic and horrific occupation, what lessons have you taken from it to reflect upon your daily life today?

SCMikeGibbons4 karma

How much most reporters care about what they do. How the tragic stories do move them. How much pride they feel when they make someone's day. How mistakes that get into print really bother them. And they do it for crappy pay and hours.

DrDazzA5 karma

That really tears me hard to hear that, thank you for a really sincere and honest answer!

SCMikeGibbons6 karma

I'm out of the biz now, but once a reporter always a reporter. You gotta stick up for your tribe. Hate it when folks crap on reporters, especially beat reporters at local papers. Some of the finest folks around.

suaveitguy2 karma

Did you ever try to interview victims' families within minutes or hours of a tragedy? Are there any rules or standards people adhere to about when is to soon etc..?

SCMikeGibbons8 karma

Yes. I hated knocking on doors, but we sometimes had to. The main standard: be decent. Some journalists (I'm looking at you, TV) were very in your face. I always reminded myself there was a real human there suffering, and told them I was there to talk if they wanted to. But if they wanted me gone, I'm out.

MoonHydrogen1 karma

Were there any stories you did that made you consider quitting?

SCMikeGibbons2 karma

Nope. I did have one reporter quit after a story. An official got caught using official e-mail to send naughty messages to an other employee (not his spouse). The reporter had an issue with us running the story, saying he felt it was a personal matter. So he resigned. I didn't agree with him then, and don't now. We are still friends however.

MoonHydrogen1 karma

Interesting. Thanks for the response!

SCMikeGibbons1 karma

Sure thing. It's why I'm here. :-)

suaveitguy1 karma

Ever feel anything like guilt or any ethical pangs for covering tragic events? On some level, you got rewarded because someone is in a tough spot to begin with.

SCMikeGibbons3 karma

Not guilt, so much, as you know it's the job. But it was tough when families called you because you showed the picture of their kid's mangled car on the front page or ran their mug shot. I always reminded myself (and reporters, when I was an editor) that in cases like that, part of our job is to be a punching bag. When they say, "How would you feel if this was your son?" you just respond, "I'm so sorry for what your family is going through." I let folks go on for a reasonable amount time, but drew the line with swearing or threats, in particular lawyer threats. Probably the worst feeling was when it was someone at the paper or a co-worker's relative.

RonaldosLeftNutsack1 karma

Hello Mr. Gibbons! How exactly did you get into this line of work? Did you go to college? And do you have any particular reason for choosing the topics that you write (sorry, I know that's a lot of questions but you have a very cool job)?

SCMikeGibbons2 karma

I started as a part timer and opportunities just presented themselves. Crime beat opened up, and I was offered the job. Turns out, I was not too bad at it. I really enjoyed the crime beat because I loved the rush of breaking news. (Covering council meetings did not quite have that rush for me, although those are essential beats and covered by some very solid and patient reporters.) I graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in advertising and public relations. And it was a cool job. I've moved on to non-profits, and I have a very different job today, but it's cool and fun, too. If you don't enjoy your job, find one you do. I know that's easier said than done. I'm 43, and fortunately have had way more good work experiences than bad. But when you are a bad work environment, you sometimes don't realize the toll it can take on you.

EmotionalPat281 karma

So what's the deal with airline food?

SCMikeGibbons1 karma

It's delicious.

spiffypyro1 karma

I am from South carolina. I live in West Columbia about 2 blocks away from the capitol building. Just FYI. Have you ever witnessed police brutality or corruption first-hand in your line of work?

SCMikeGibbons1 karma

Yes. Covered it several times. Sometimes it was officers caught on dash cam. We covered those very closely and always got the footage and made it available because they are very important. But I will stress that the vast, vast majority of cops I covered are good people trying to do their job and wanting to make their community a better place. And the chiefs/sheriffs I worked with were pretty good at dealing with these cases swiftly. BTW, the Sheriff is Mike Hunt, and I see his election bumper stickers pop up on Reddit on occasion. Always makes me chuckle. I covered him back when he was on the bloodhound team.

spiffypyro-2 karma

So you know about Mike Hunt's murder indictment as well as allegations of making Aiken the "false arrest capitol of the world"?

SCMikeGibbons6 karma

And how he was cleared of it, along with the other officers? Sure am. If you're going to serve up that story (are you that guy on Topix?), you ought to give the full story.

spiffypyro-2 karma

I dont know what youre talking about. I know he was cleared of it. I was simply wondering if you knew anything about it. If youre going to be overly defensive toward somebody, you ought to know the full story. Thought that was reporter 101.

SCMikeGibbons4 karma

I'm not defensive at all. I just know how often that story got served up to us, in particular during election cycles. And it was always presented as "WHY WON'T YOU COVER THIS?" We did, and we did.

aitiger70 karma

Do you guys ever have to edit important information because the government will find it to be too revealing of the actual story?

SCMikeGibbons5 karma

"The government" is a pretty broad term. Can you explain what you mean exactly? If you are asking if we keep secrets for the government, then no. Editors make decisions based on what needs to be in the story. I've run plenty of stories after government officials have specifically called me (or my bosses) and asked me not to run them. I worked for the paper and the readers, not government.

window5-8 karma

Do you see violent crime committed by Whites? I am curious because I have never been in a white area and been concerned about crime. My theory is that when Whites commit murder it is against someone they know. Can you correct me based on what you see reporting on crime in your state?

SCMikeGibbons3 karma

I have seen violence committed by every age, race, and social status. I covered several mass shootings at worksplaces. Killers were both black and white.

window5-4 karma

What percentage of the crimes that you cover are mass workplace shootings? You are not helping me understand crime in America.

SCMikeGibbons4 karma

Well, they're not that commonplace, but I have no idea of stats. Really can't comment on national crime trends, because I'd be speaking without specific knowledge.