AP State News Reports: Sensitive coverage of Sikh tragedy

Aug. 15, 2012
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Sikh temple shooting
Mourners provide comfort Friday, Aug. 10, 2012 at the funeral and memorial service held in the Oak Creek High School for the six victims of Sunday's mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Wis. Wade Michael Page, 40, killed five men and one woman, and injured two other men. Authorities say Page then ambushed the first police officer who responded, shooting him nine times and leaving him in critical condition. A second officer then shot Page in the stomach, and Page took his own life with a shot to the head. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
In the aftermath of the Sikh temple shooting outside Milwaukee, an AP reporter was singled out for his aggressive coverage and sensitivity to his subjects’ loss and culture. Managing Editor for State News, Financial News and Global Training Kristin Gazlay explains in this Aug. 15 staff memo.

Milwaukee newsman Dinesh Ramde and his colleagues already had been through an intense week covering the aftermath of a mass shooting by a white supremacist at a Sikh temple. And now came the Friday service for the six Sikhs killed in the rampage.

Just covering the service was compelling enough for other news outlets, but not for Ramde. So he worked with a temple leader to get inside after the building opened at 5:30 a.m. that day to get an exclusive tour and take photos. There, the leader showed him something remarkable – a bullet hole in a door jamb that the leader said would stay there as a memorial, a compelling detail no one else had that became the lead to the AP story. 

One of the keys to Ramde’s success was his sensitivity to temple customs – and the fact that he even learned them in the first place. When two temple leaders with whom he had been consulting introduced him to elders, he properly addressed them as “uncle” and “auntie” and made the namaste sign – palms pressed together in front of his chest – which helped temple members warm to him. One of them thanked Ramde for the way he’d handled earlier stories since the Sunday shooting and for his sensitivity to the families and Sikh community. Ramde was granted access to the entire building, including the small pantry where 16 people hid during the attack, which enabled colleague Robert Ray to shoot video.

Ramde’s story played huge in the state, including a half-dozen front-page displays Saturday, even as the news broke that Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan had been named Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate. 

On top of the Friday exclusive, Ramde was the first AP staffer at the temple immediately after the shooting and made a point to get cell numbers of people he interviewed at the scene and at two candlelight vigils earlier in the week. He continued to get details no one else had right up to a story on the temple holding its first Sunday service since the shooting, when leaders told him they considered having a seventh casket that would be empty to memorialize the white supremacist who shot and killed their loved ones.

For aggressive coverage of a top story while still remaining sensitive to his subjects’ loss and culture, Ramde wins this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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