When the Story Changes Just Like That


Talk about a story changing 180 degrees. 

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 efforts crucial. 

"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 traditional 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. One did." 

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. 

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