Baltimore Stations in Live Mode Amidst Riots

The Baltimore stations have been live for much of the time since violence broke out in the city over the weekend, following the memorial mass for Freddie Gray. Tuesday’s coverage focused on the clean-up, the countless brooms in the hands of residents serving as symbols of the city’s efforts to get back to normal. It has also showed public figures, such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, walking the streets with residents.

It’s been a hectic few days for the stations, including WBAL, WJZ, WMAR and WBFF. “We’re all on standby,” says Dan Joerres, WBAL president and general manager. “It’s a tipping point for the city, and certainly for the country.”

The station chiefs say reporters were mostly allowed to do their jobs as angry residents clashed with police. Keith Daniels, reporter at WBFF, was hit with tear gas. “He was visibly shaken,” says Bill Fanshawe, WBFF general manager.

As always, the newsgatherers’ first order is safety. “They know when to pull back when necessary,” says Joerres, “and when they are safe to tell the story.”

No one is sure if the violence is over. Joerres mentioned the rioters using social media to plan their mayhem, and talk of the film The Purge as a model for rioting. Chatter about subsequent “purges” have bounced the rumor mill.

The stations have of course used social media to get the story out too. “Working together to clean up riot areas. Despite everything decent folks always do the right thing,” tweeted WMAR reporter Roosevelt Leftwich (@leftwichabc2).

WMAR has a viral video on its hands that has also appeared on various ABC stations around the country, showing a woman beating a youth who is presumably her son after catching him throwing rocks at police.

After postponing Monday and Tuesday's games, the Orioles will play the White Sox in front of an empty stadium Wednesday, and will shift their planned home series against the Tampa Bay Rays to Florida. Everyone is hoping for normalcy to return. “As someone who’s been in Baltimore almost 20 years, it’s sad for everyone,” says Fanshawe. “It’s not good for the city and it’s not good for the communities.”

Joerres, for his part, is hoping the violence is a short term setback for DMA No. 26 — and perhaps even something that will bring the community together in the longer term. “This is not our community,” he says. “This is not the way we operate.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.