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Hawaii News Now Put to Tsunami Test

Staffers from Hawaii News Now, the moniker of the joint KHNL-KGMB-KFVE Honolulu newsroom, are slowly starting to think about a little well-deserved rest, a shower, and change of clothes after a harrowing night of tsunami watching. Hawaii News Now (HNN) began the coverage of what was thought to be a pending tsunami on the heels of Japan’s earthquake in its 9 p.m. news last night, with anchors Stephanie Lum and Keahi Tucker going live and commercial free through the night before passing off to the early a.m. crew around 4:30.

Close to 9 a.m. Friday morning, the stations resumed regular programming; News Director Mark Platte says HNN was first on and last off with the local live coverage. The expanded HNN newsroom is still going strong after working through the night, he adds.

“At some point, you just pretend it’s a new day and move on,” says Platte.

The trio of stations, known to the competition as “The Cartel,” are owned by Raycom (KHNL and KGMB) and GMC TV (KFVE). A shared services agreement that drew the ire of local media officials in Honolulu links the three. Other TV news outlets in Honolulu include Hearst TV’s KITV and New Vision’s KHON.


Their newsroom located about a half block from the potential “inundation zone,” Platte and his deputies discussed backup plans if the station building were to be evacuated, including broadcasting from the roof of a nearby parking garage. “Luckily, none of that came to pass,” he says.

Indeed, the event turned out to be, mercifully, more of a non-event. It was nonetheless a big test for Platte, the former Honolulu Advertiser editor who took over the HNN newsroom in May of 2010. Predating his time atop the HNN newsroom was another tsunami scare following last February’s earthquake in Chile. “That was their first test,” he says of the merged newsroom. “But this was a lot more serious.”

HNN supplemented its coverage with traffic cameras on Hawaii’s various islands, and user generated content from its Connect Now platform. KOLD Tucson executive producer Jonathan Saupe was in town for an interview at HNN, and ended up pitching in with the coverage.

Platte says was streaming around 13,000 live videos at its peak–much of them coming from concerned people on the mainland and around the world. One email to the station from a woman with parents in Hawaii read:

What a treat and joy to see solid, informative, relevant news being relayed in a calm, informative manner.

Watching your station/website for less than 20 minutes has begun to restore my dwindling faith in the media! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your organization and newscasters deserve huge kudos for a great job!

The tsunami warning was recently downgraded to an advisory, and the closed down roads are starting to open up again–making the idea of heading home for rest an option, at least.

“It’s been a long day,” says Platte.

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.