The Cleveland kidnapping case has all the elements of an
unforgettable news story, including a bizarre crime, innocent victims, heroes
and a happy, at least for the most part, ending. As such, it's nothing short of
a circus on site in Cleveland, as the local TV reporters trade elbows with news
crews from as far away as Australia, Japan and Argentina to follow the story of
the three women, Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight, who were freed
earlier in the week.
"It's a sea of reporters at the scene of both
homes," says Dan Salamone, news director at Raycom's WOIO. "It
presents a challenge for the police, and also for us as we continue to try and
bring the story home for local viewers. It's a mad scene."
The next big get will be with the victims. One victim's
relative attempted to speak to the media Wednesday, but gave up when she was
not able to be heard. "It's going to take some time," says Brooke
Spectorsky, president and general manager of Gannett's WKYC. "They've been
locked up for ten years, and it's a circus out there."
The Cleveland stations, which also include WJW and WEWS,
have been covering the story since it broke the evening of May 6. WOIO broke in
first at 6:23 p.m. WKYC went live 10 minutes later, says Spectorsky, then went
with network news until 7 p.m. The competition, according to two sources, began
their own reports after 7 p.m.
Salamone says the WOIO news outfit got the scoop thanks to
deep contacts in law enforcement, along with longtime relationships with family
members of the victims. The station's video of the alleged captors, the Castro
brothers, from downtown Cleveland's Justice Center is slated to air on CBS Evening News Wednesday, said
Salamone. "They knew where to be at the right time," he said of his
newsroom getting the footage.
The local staffs are running on fumes nearly 48 hours since
the story broke. WKYC has received personnel reinforcements from Gannett
stations all over the map, including ones in Atlanta, Denver, Buffalo and
Tampa. "Whenever major events happen, it's what we do," says
Spectorsky. "When you're going wall to wall, it's very helpful to have the
The victims have been through unimaginable horror during
their decade in captivity. "Gruesome. Shocking. Horrific -- pick an
adjective," says Salamone. Yet that they were able to walk out of the
Castro house is a cause for rejoicing in Cleveland -- a city that could use a
shot of good news, particularly after an unarmed African-American couple was
gunned down by police late last year. "I think there's a much more
positive attitude from the community toward the police," says Spectorsky,
who acknowledges that some wonder about the department's inability to locate
the missing women.
It's the largest story within the DMA's boundaries in many,
many years. In terms of wall-to-wall coverage, Salamone likens it to a wildfire
story he covered at KRQE Albuquerque over a decade ago. Spectorsky, a 16-year
veteran of the market, says it's "right up there" with anything he's
seen in Cleveland -- a broader media story than a high school shooting one last
year, and one with a happier ending. Same goes for Bill Applegate, who took
over the WOIO-WUAB GM job 12 years ago. "It's the biggest thing in my
time here," he says.
The reporters will continue to follow the story,
including speaking with the victims and following the legal outcome of the
suspects. "It's a very rewarding story for us to cover," says
Salamone. "It's obviously very uplifting for the community."
Jill Manuel, news director at WEWS, says staffers--many who had been covering the kidnapping case since it broke over a decade ago--streamed back into the newsroom when they heard the women had escaped. "The story has so much meaning for people here," she says. "There's been a lot of emotion this week."
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