The Boston television crews had to make a quick switch from
covering a festive event to reporting on tragic breaking news as bombs went off
at the Boston Marathon on Monday. Station TV crews were already set up near the
finish line of the 117th running of the marathon when they switched to breaking
news, going live at around 3 p.m. WBZ, which aired the marathon, had around 40 staffers at the site, including a pair of anchors on the finish line. WFXT anchor Maria Stephanos was a spectator
with her children, waiting to see her husband cross the line. She provided a
witness' account to the station. Nicole Jacobs, a WFXT colleague and a marathon
participant who was held up before she could finish due to the bombing, got on
for a phoner as well.
Pivoting from party to tragedy was "incredibly jarring,"
in the words of WCVB Boston president/GM Bill Fine. "I imagine it is the
same as how the people of Atlanta felt during the Olympic Park bombing in 1996,
which caused similar devastation."
Mark Lund, WBZ president and general manager, left the finish line area a little before the explosions. He mentions the mood going from "jubilation" to something drastically different. "It looked like a war zone--it really did," he says. "It wasn't even people screaming. It was just stunned silence."
On a warm and sunny day in Boston, much of the region was
out celebrating Patriots Day, the annual event featuring a Red Sox game, the
running race and scores of people walking the streets and sharing a drink in
the pubs. The out-of-home nature of the day made stations' live-streaming
"Streaming breaking news on the Web and mobile is the
fastest growing part of our overall commitment to deliver news on every
platform," said Fine. "During the day, where Web and mobile traffic
is traditionally highest, it can be the best or only link to viewers."
Twitter was, for many, the first forum to share reporting.
Tweeted Sean Kelly of WCVB: "I remain struck by the site of brave first
responders and volunteer medics sprinting to vics knowing more bombs could go.
News crews from surrounding markets flocked to Boston as
word got out. Meredith's WSHM Springfield (Mass.) and WFSB Hartford, among many
others, sent trucks and reporters. "It's a huge story," said Klarn
DePalma, vice president and general manager at the stations. "We had to
get there and get the information out to our viewers."
Some local station sites experienced problems with the heavy
web traffic. WHDH.com, part of Sunbeam TV, was unavailable for a long stretch after
the news broke, as was the Boston Globe site. (Calls to WHDH management for
comment did not go through.) Fine says WCVB experienced the equivalent of three
weeks' worth of visits at 3 p.m., and credited Hearst Digital and Web partner
Internet Broadcasting for "diverting necessary resources" to keep the
site humming. The CBS joint TV-radio site had two million unique visitors.
Stations posted to Facebook, and gathered tips there too.
"Register here to find loved ones. Also - make sure they know you're
safe," posted WHDH, sharing a Red Cross URL.
The cable news networks relied heavily on their local
partners; CNN showed footage from WHDH, WBZ and WCVB. When it went live with a
press conference at 8:45 p.m. Monday, Fox News Channel offered a feed from CBS-owned
WBZ. (WBZ and WFXT share video.) Video of the explosion shot by Steve Silva of
the Boston Globe emerged as the
defining clip of the incident.
As morning broke, the news crews faced a busy day on what
was, for many, insufficient sleep. Tweeted WBZ's Jim Armstrong: "5 hrs
sleep; 6 y.o. son wakes me up to ask if I found out 'who put the bomb there.'
Didn't know he knew."
The stations reported on an airplane that was evacuated at
Logan Airport because of a suspicious package that proved to be harmless. They
shared that the FBI is searching for relevant images or video from marathon
spectators' smartphones. They shared the heartbreaking photo of Martin Richard,
an eight-year-old killed in Monday's bombing, holding a handmade poster asking
WCVB's crew is working in 12-hour shifts.
"Most of them have covered every major story imaginable, especially in the
last 11 years," said Fine. "As difficult as this is for a lot of us
personally, an attack in our home town, everyone here is a pro, dug right in
and remains determined to make sure we get the story out to all."
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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.