Unlike other journalists at the scene of the mass shooting, Dakota Allen and Olivia Schouten recognized faces they saw coming out of the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks. They won’t forget the sight of survivors in the early morning on Nov. 8.
“We’d been waiting hours,” said Allen, editor in chief of The Echo. “And they come out and they’re wrapped in blankets. And seeing them run up to their friends or family. And seeing other families standing there, but no one came out to greet them.”
“That was probably the hardest part,” said Schouten, news editor of the award-winning weekly student paper.
Schouten added, “Your first instinct, I would say, as a human, is just to drop everything and go to them and say, Oh my gosh, I’m glad that you’re here. But you’re still there for the purpose – you’ve got to let everyone know what’s going on.”
To do that work, they had to set aside rumors and disseminate facts by every means, with the full editorial staff of about 10 members pitching in. They didn’t know on arrival at Borderline that 13 people including the gunman had died. They couldn’t be sure, at first, that reports of a violent incident at The Tipsy Goat tavern were false.
The Echo’s editorial staff certainly did not know it would be chasing breaking stories for the next week and longer, after the Hill and Woolsey fires that flared up that same Nov. 8 sent them to locations from Fillmore to Beverly Hills. The main campus was never under an evacuation order, but the two burn areas would come within about three miles to the west and the southeast.
Wherever they went, they had to think like reporters. On the night of the shooting, sports editor Brooke Stanley went to Samuelson Chapel and, conscious of her own grief, interviewed students who wanted to talk about theirs. When a plume of smoke rose on the horizon, she taped her phone to her bedroom window in Moorpark and made a time-lapse video to share on social media.
Earlier on, at the scene of the shooting, Allen and Schouten were also trying to use their phones and phone batteries to best advantage. They tweeted out updates, conferred with photo editor Arianna Macaluso about Instagram posts, and interviewed students who had admitted themselves to Los Robles Hospital. They kept reworking a first web article on Schouten’s laptop. A video clip by Allen ended up on cable news.
Published online a little after 4 a.m., that first article established key facts. The staff would add to it that day but never had to issue corrections.
Later that day, Macaluso evacuated her home located in the Woolsey fire’s path, but continued taking photos. Staff members were dispersed and increasingly “running on fumes,” in Allen’s words.
“We were going out and talking to our photo editor and, Hey, I need a camera and Take that one, and we were just going,” Schouten said. “We all had the passwords to our Echo social media.”
“Everyone wore every hat,” said Stanley. “That’s what I’m most proud of. Our social media editor (Vianca Castaneda-Correa) was writing articles, and our distributions person (Krystal Rhaburn) was writing articles. It was just awesome.”
The team produced the bulk of its Nov. 13 edition in under a day without outside submissions. Therein, an unsigned editorial announced, “Our staff isn’t going anywhere.” It read, in part:
…after the news vans leave and the nation’s attention turns elsewhere, we will still be here over the following weeks and months to inform and serve as a platform for people to share their stories. #TOStrong will fall out of use, but we hope the message persists.
The whole experience solidified Allen, Schouten and Stanley’s ambitions to go on to professional journalism careers.
“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from professors and from people on campus, and that’s great,” Allen said. “But, for me, I was just doing my job. We just felt like this was our duty.” —Kevin Matthews