The Decision to Televise Justice Albright's Funeral

By: Bruce Layman
By: Bruce Layman

A behind-the-scenes look at some of the decisions involved in providing live coverage of the funeral for Justice Joseph Albright.

I's not a common occurence to be faced with a decision on whether to televise the coverage of a local funeral. Unlike the funerals of Pope John Paul II and the Princess of Wales in which coverage on a worldwide scale is expected, a similar decision on a local level creates pain-staking editorial decisions and logistical planning.
 
Was "live coverage" a knee-jerk response? No.  All of us in the newsroom understood the importance of Justice Albrght's passing.  But crucial funeral plans were still many hours away:

Would there be a large public funeral held in Charleston? 

 

Would there be a small private family funeral held at a country church?

Would there be multiple locations? 

 

Would Governor Manchin attend, meaning security restrictions that we would have to respect?

 

Would the Albright family even want such live coverage? Would the venue for the funeral permit live coverage? If so, would live coverage be an appropriate way to honor the legacy of Justice Albright?

 

And, last but certainly not least, if the Albright family did permit such coverage, could WTAP-TV provide it in a manner that would not distract the family and other mourners? 

All of these were questions that had to be worked out quickly and with sensitivity.  Fortunately, when such matters arise, one has to commend the professionalism and patience of funeral directors. In this case, the funeral home in charge of services (Leavitt Funeral Home) was able to ask the family on WTAP-TV's behalf what their wishes were. The Albright family granted our request.

By now, we knew the venue of the funeral - St. Francis Xavier Church in Parkersburg.  But would the church grant us permission to have a live presence there...and if so, was it even possible from a technical standpoint?

Here entered the professional and patient Rev. Eric Hall. Father Hall devoted hours of his time watching a number of WTAP staff scour the balcony and the rarely-seen interior of the church's belltower until we could verify that quality audio and video signals could be transmitted through a vent high up in the belltower to our microwave truck parked three blocks away at the corner of Fourth and Market Streets.  
 
We assured both the Albright family and Father Hall that there would be only person with only one camera in the balcony of the church during the funeral.  No reporter talking away - no one.

That posed one final question: With no reporter physically inside the church, how would we present our live coverage in a manner that would convey the dignity of the service and tactfully explain to non-Catholic viewers (roughly 95 percent of the Mid-Ohio Valley) the various traditions in a Catholic funeral that aren't seen in Protestant funerals?

Here entered Very Rev. Joseph Peterson of St. Margaret Mary Church in Parkersburg. Sitting beside WTAP-TV's Kim Lucey in our main studio on the morning of the funeral, Father Peterson helped explain to our audience some of the history, tradition and beliefs Catholics hold dear during such times.

The night before the funeral, WTAP-TV agreed to serve as the state's "pool camera," at the request of the West Virginia State Supreme Court.  This meant that we were committed to provide our live coverage to all other West Virginia stations - no matter what affiliation.  It was yet another huge responsibility, but in retrospect it probably prevented a melee of satellite trucks and reporters from a host of other stations across the state converging on downtown Parkersburg on the morning of the 25th. 

Our live coverage that day lasted about 90 minutes. Afterwards, there were no "high-fives." In fact, at the end of the day, a number of us in the newsroom admitted we felt completely drained of energy. I think the burden weighing on us that evening was whether we truly had served the public and the Albrights to the best of our ability. I hope we did.

I wish the Albrights and their extended families the best as they deal with their loss.  
 

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