In a market known more for tourism than terror, Orlando, Fla., television crews are still reeling from a remarkably tragic week that included the Pulse Nightclub shooting massacre and a toddler being snatched by an alligator at a Walt Disney World resort.
“These stories are going to unfold for months, and maybe longer. Who knows?” said Jeff Zeller, Fox O&O WOFL’s VP of news. “It’s going to be a matter of just staying on top of it all.”
Orlando affiliates, as well as local and network reporters from other markets, have been covering a slew of grisly events in varying degrees of intensity since 2 a.m. on June 12, when TV across the country went wall-to-wall after Omar Mateen killed 49 people at the nightclub. It was the worst mass shooting in American history.
The shooting occurred two days after another local story sparked national interest. On June 10, singer and The Voice contestant Christina Grimmie was shot to death after an Orlando concert. Another gruesome event occurred June 14, when a 2-year-old Nebraska boy was fatally attacked by an alligator while playing in a lagoon at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.
Zeller said his staff, for much of the week, “were constantly in place,” as were crews sent in to help from Fox O&Os in Tampa, Fla.; Chicago; Philadelphia; and Atlanta.
He said the vast difference in the scope of the events— the immense mass shooting versus individual tragedies—didn’t curtail coverage of any in particular.
“The shooting and the nightclub got full attention up until the gator attack, which was another unfortunate, horrific tragedy, [and] became yet another breaking news situation and you have to respond accordingly,” Zeller said. “At least for that time period, they get equal attention.”
Making that call, however, wasn’t as clear-cut for journalists from outside the market, who weighed whether they really had a purpose in covering the alligator attack.
“They were both awful, and what a bizarre coincidence they happened in geographic proximity,” said Lou Young, a WCBS New York reporter who flew to Orlando just hours after the Pulse massacre.
“On one hand, [the alligator attack] was another big story. But on the other hand it seemed kind of tragic, and lurid on its face, and not of the same depth of the shooting that was just vastly interlocking with so many issues,” Young said. Young said he knew what he had to do covering the nightclub shooting. “The idea was to look at it through [a] New Yorker’s eyes,” he said.
Young’s reports included interviews with transplanted New Yorkers whose memories of the Sept. 11 attacks were rekindled by the shooting. Others drew similarities between the area surrounding the Pulse nightclub and Manhattan neighborhoods.
But Young’s team ultimately decided to leave covering the alligator attack to local broadcasters. “My going to that story wasn’t going to add anything more to it,” he said.
The idea just didn’t sit right, either. “I was willing to go, but it would have been a little jarring to say yesterday’s big story was that 103 people [were] shot today, and today an alligator attacked a child,” Young said.
Local crews, however, didn’t have that option—nor will they likely rest from the stories anytime soon.
“There’s a lot of tireless work going on,” Zeller said. “And then there is just the community healing and grieving and dealing with the situations that unfolded last week.”
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