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Like its famously frenetic residents, the news cycle never sleeps in New York. But what took place in late Octoberearly November was ridiculous, even by Gotham’s standards.Hurricane Sandy plunged giant swaths of the region into darkness and despair. With that crisis still fully raw, Election Day took place. The next day, a nor’easter rolled into town, with rain and snow, accompanied by forceful gusts and storm surges reminiscent of the ones that caused havoc a week before.
“We have a list of 11 things that happened during Sandy that we would’ve done for a week,” says Steve Paulus, Time Warner Cable senior VP of news and local programming and NY1 News chief, mentioning the cancelled New York City Marathon and schools being closed all week. “And they all happened in one week.”
There is no better group of TV outlets for tackling multiple major stories than New York’s. The stations extended their reach with LiveU backpacks to go live in hardto- reach spots, and used social media platforms to connect with users on the go. They drew on corporate siblings, with trucks and crews rolling in from other markets like so many out-of-town gas-and-electric crews. “The only question my bosses had was, ‘What do you need—and how quickly can we get it to you?” says Michael Jack, president and general manager of WNBC.
With so much of the market without power, radio came in handy. WABC aired on ESPN’s AM and FM channels. WCBS enhanced its coverage with its suite of sister radio stations. “I think our coverage and our storytelling separated us from everybody else,” says Peter Dunn, WCBS president/general manager and president of CBS Television Stations. “It was incredible television in a terrible situation.”
Cablevision’s News 12, serving the suburbs, offered its audio feed via telephone, receiving nearly 140,000 calls from Oct. 28-31.
For Dave Davis, WABC president and general manager, the gratification from being live for 100-plus hours in a week came from WABC’s Facebook page. “The things people wrote—‘You kept us safe, you kept us connected, you kept us informed,’” Davis says. “There’s an emotional connection we have— our long-term anchors and reporters grew up here and are like family to viewers.”
Nielsen’s November sweeps is in limbo, thanks to the outages, but WABC was the market’s usual monster in October. The ABC owned station won total day ratings, morning, early evening and late news—the latter with a 5.9 household rating/10 share, ahead of WCBS’ 4.7/8. WCBS, runner-up in most news races, won primetime.
Fox owns WNYW and MyNetworkTV outlet WWOR. NBC owns WNBC and Telemundo station WNJU. CBS closed on independent WLNY earlier this year. Tribune has CW affiliate WPIX. Univision owns WXTV and TeleFutura station WFUT, along with radio stations, which worked together to provide three Sandy updates per hour to Spanishspeaking viewers.
NY1, which turned 20 in September, concentrates its newsgathering inside the city limits. A “Speak Out” feature spawned in Sandy’s wake allowed residents to share their frustrations with public officials on-air.
Stations’ revenue had been consistent for most of the year, though Sandy, and the commercial- free hours dedicated to the coverage, was a big financial hit. “You’re not even thinking about revenue,” says Eric Meyrowitz, vice president/general manager of WPIX. “It’s really what our job is as broadcasters.”
Stations in DMA No. 1 are working hard to stand out. WNBC brought back its own helicopter in September. WPIX is live from 4-9 a.m. and has the personality known as Lionel adding commentary to its offbeat newscasts. WCBS aired CBS network programming on WLNY when the primary station was live with Sandy coverage. WWOR has Bounce TV on its multicast tier. In July, WNYW moved anchor Greg Kelly to 10 p.m. in place of Ernie Anastos. “He’s upped his game,” Lew Leone, WNYW VP/general manager, says of Kelly. “The newscast has a different feel—more conversational, more energetic.”
NY1 has the luxury of sticking with the story when the broadcast channels go back to regular programming. Sandy will be Topic A on NY1’s 8 p.m. New York Tonight for some time. The network-owned stations may feature the mayor’s press conference on a split screen, says Paulus, but “people know they can come to NY1 and see a full screen.”
Leader WABC thrives in part because ABC didn’t slash budgets in the lean years, says Davis. “It’s nice to work for a company that expands local news and believes it’s the bedrock,” he says.
Davis credits his competition for their work during Sandy. “Everybody in the market,” he says, “was a credit to local broadcasting.”
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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.