An Intern Did It

But was it really the intern? Yes, an intern at the NTSB is getting the heat because s/he confirmed the racially insensitive names of the pilots behind the deadly Asiana Flight 214.

But where did those names come from? Did the intern think them up on his/her own? Or, rather, did someone from the station call or write this person, supplying the names, and asked if those were correct?

In which case, which is more egregious? What the intern did was wrong, and s/he was probably told at the beginning of his/her term to report to a supervisor. There is no question this is a big international event, and therefore an intern should not be the one to confirm any information about the event.

However, the names? If someone at the station supplied those names and thought it was funny, what is happening to that person? That is truly offensive and should not be overlooked.

Editor’s Note: The intern has since been let go by the NTSB, but what about the station – what kind of discipline is happening there?

Editor’s Note: Apparently the station provided the names, but according to a statement on their website never sounded them out. The intern then verified spelling, but the station didn’t ask that person’s title. So where did the station get the names initially?

Enough With The Images

The stories of the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombings are coming out, giving us hope and letting us meet some amazing people.

There is Heather Abbott who was waiting to get into a bar after having gone to a Red Sox game with her friends. There is the mother and daughter, Celeste and Sydney Corcoran, who were at the race that day to cheer on Celeste’s sister. There is college student Victoria McGrath who was told a white lie to get her through the immediate moments after the bombings.

I have read and learned of these stories not through watching the evening news, but seeing them online. I have chosen to digest the news on my terms, to choose the stories I want to see, and only when I feel up to it.

I have clicked on headlines like, “Victims Look Ahead,” and “Survivor to Rescuers: ‘You Saved My Life’” and “Boylston Street Open After Bombing” hoping to see new images of hope and survival.

Instead, within seconds of watching, the images of the bombings are edited into the piece. Each time I have had to stop watching.

No matter what the story is — whether it’s the inspirational story of a woman who decided to have her foot amputated, or the touching story of a man rushing to save the life of a young college student — every one of these stories has used these images.

It doesn’t matter which network or cable station – they are all still using these images, nearly two weeks after the bombings.

What is to be gained by using these images now? Of watching when the bombs went off? Of seeing the moment when people were killed or maimed? What is the purpose?

We know what it looks like. We know what it sounds like. We don’t need to be reminded of it every time we want to be inspired and try to get back to “normal,” whatever that is now.

Imagine how these families and friends of those killed or injured feel every time these stories air. They think, “It’s nice to see how ___ is doing, and what an inspiration s/he is.” And then… that image.

Why is this different from 9/11? Why could it be decided then not to repeatedly show the plane crashing into the second tower, but now it’s okay to show a bomb blowing up and killing innocent people? Because there were three people killed, not 3,000? Because it’s Boston, not New York?

Why? Please, stop using those images of the bombs exploding. We’ve had enough.

What the What?

I learned of the on air flub of a certain anchor in North Dakota pretty early in the game. It’s what happens when you have several friends in the business, they share things.

A lot of it was, “Can you believe this happened?” “He said what?” or “Poor guy.”

It was well after I saw all of this that this anchor got fired.

After watching a few of his interviews as he made the talk show circuit Wednesday, I have so many questions.

Now, I will never say I was good when I started. Heck, some will even say I wasn’t good when I got out of the business. And that’s fine. But I will say there are some things about the television business that go without saying.

  1. A mic is always hot. Always. No matter if you’re sitting on the set or standing in the field, a mic is always hot. A close friend of mine, who is still in the business never swears. Ever. That way she’s never inclined to when she’s holding a mic. It’s a darn good habit. Because of her I say “crud” a lot more than other words.
  2. An IFB is a must. Having worked in a very small market, I know that generally speaking in addition to anchoring the news you are also producing it. In order to facilitate this, you need to be able to communicate with your director. And if you’re not producing it, and you have a producer sitting in the booth, that producer needs to communicate with you on the set (or in the field). This particular anchor claims after three weeks on the job he hadn’t been fit for an IFB yet. I came out of college owning two IFBs – one to use every day and one for a back up. If you are going to anchor a show, you need an IFB. In addition to being able to communicate with your producer or director, you need it to hear soundbites and full stories. I don’t understand how you can try to anchor a show without an IFB.
  3. Anyone who has ever anchored would be lying if they told you they weren’t nervous for their first show. Your hands may shake, your voice may crack, you may mispronounce things. It happens. The audience is generally forgiving. Especially in small markets. It’s where reporters and anchors go to make mistakes. But at the same time, reporters and anchors, good ones at least, try to be as prepared for this first (and hopefully subsequent) shows as possible. They read scripts dozens of times, they put pronouncers in the scripts, they ask their co-workers how to say something, they listen to tape. They know — generally — what to expect. Rehearsing happens during commercial breaks, in the newsroom, and during packages. This brings me back to number 2.
  4. If this particular anchor had an IFB they would likely be getting a countdown from the control room, whether the director or master control operator, that they were about to go on air. The rehearsing would stop, and he would be ready to go, whether he knew how to say the name or not. (I’m also curious why the London Marathon was the second story in this show.)
  5. “He can report, shoot, and edit,” says one morning show host trying to get him another job. Great – so can the rest of the broadcast journalists graduating. Doesn’t really set him apart in 2013.

His 15 minutes are about to expire and then he’s going to have to figure out what he’s really going to do. It’s too bad the station decided to fire him rather than suspend him. Reporters and anchors make mistakes in small markets so they don’t make them in big ones. Now, this was a pretty big mistake, but just for a moment imagine if he was simply suspended, would he be making the talk show rounds asking for an offer from ESPN? No.

What do you think should happen now?

Good Comes Out Of Bad

Saturday, April 20, 2013 I awoke with joy. I was looking forward to spending as much of my day outside as possible.

Once the twins were awake and fed, I put them in the stroller and walked the mile to our local Target where a half dozen satellite trucks were still set up. We had seen video of the parking lot the day before and the lot was packed. But once Suspect #2 was captured, they scattered back to the bomb site, the hospital, and where the (alleged) bomber was found.

Not everyone had left, though. And there was one man in particular who was still there whom I was excited to see.

Chris Pollone (aka @ChrisPollone) and I connected via Twitter a couple of years ago. We’re both in news, we both went to Syracuse, and he grew up just outside of Boston. He is now living in New York City with his wife, and he is freelancing for NBC.

Before leaving the house, I packed some freshly baked brownies and apples for Chris and his team. It was the least I could do.

Chris had been putting in very long hours and was exhausted come Saturday, but still put on a smile when we showed up.

This story was tragic, but getting to meet Chris in person (finally) was one bright spot.

Chris Pollone, NBC News

Chris Pollone doing a live shot from in front of Watertown Mall.

A Terrible Wake-Up Call

No matter how old you are, you know if your mother calls before 6 a.m. it’s not good.

It wasn’t good on Friday, April 19, 2013.

My mother called at 5:45 a.m. to tell me not to go outside and lock all the doors. A madman was on the loose… in our neighborhood. Our street is the town line between Belmont and Watertown.

I woke my husband immediately, telling him to call his mother and tell her we are ok. And then I checked the locks. Everything was secure.

We had turned on the news and started getting caught up on what happened overnight. And then this happened.

Having worked in news for as long as I did, I have seen these guys before. But never from this vantage point. I had always been the one standing at the end of the road craning my neck wondering what the people inside those homes were doing.

On Friday, April 19, 2013, I knew exactly what the people in those homes were doing, because I was suddenly one of them.

Our twins had yet to wake, and I promised myself that we would make this day as normal for them as possible. But how do you do that when you don’t want them going to the door, playing in the park, or even looking out the windows?

tactical FBI team members

Looking out our front door. The house across the street is in Watertown, we are in Belmont.

Once they woke we hunkered down in the kitchen and the living rooms, eating away from the giant bay windows in our dining room, and playing below the windows in the living room.

All morning we were fielding calls, texts, Facebook messages, tweets, and emails from friends and family hoping we were safe. We reassured them we were, although the anxiety levels were exceptionally high.

And then they started – the requests from media outlets to do interviews. Although my husband was the one to capture the team sweeping our garage, he was declining interviews, instead handing them off to me. I knew what these producers, reporters, talk show hosts wanted – they wanted an inside look at life in a lockdown.

So I agreed.

I went on to do interviews with a radio talk show in Akron, Ohio; the CBS affiliate in Bangor, Maine; KCTV in Kansas City, MO; France 24; the BBC; ABC; the NBC station in Portland, Maine (my former station); HuffPost Live (go to 35:00); WPIX in New York City; and WROC in Rochester, NY.

I told them it was difficult to maintain normalcy for our twin toddlers. I told them it was unnerving. I told them you never expect something like this to happen in your literal backyard. But here we were.

Door-to-door knocks

1 p.m. Friday, April 19, 2013

Doing these interviews was my defense mechanism. I knew if I kept talking about what I was seeing I could be a reporter rather than someone who was living this. I could describe the vehicles, the military-style outfits, the guns drawn and ready to shoot, the sirens, the otherwise quiet neighborhood. And I could do all of this as a reporter, not as someone living it.

In between these interviews I read books to my babies, I helped my husband prepare meals, I did laundry, and I tried not to get upset.

We ran out of milk, we were running out of bread, we were down to our last pieces of fruit, and still there was no end in sight. Instead, the lockdown was lifted and we were allowed to go outside again. My husband and I decided we were staying inside. It was nearly to the twins’ bedtime, and everything that had happened this day was too close. We were still scared.

We put the babies to bed, telling them we love them dearly and we will do everything in our power to keep them safe, and we returned to the television. During the day we snuck glances of the television while the babies were sleeping, or in the other room.

Now we were able to sit down together and watch. Within minutes, things changed. We were hearing reports that the second suspect was found in a boat a mile from our home. (The firefight the night before was less than a mile from our home.) We were riveted. Was this it? Was this the end? Is he alive?

There’s no sense in rehashing how it ended – they got him. He was alive and being taken to the hospital. People were in the streets again rejoicing. They were in front of the diner we walk to. The reporters were live from our Target where we buy milk and diapers. The hospital we were told this man was going to was down our street. And suddenly, almost as quickly as it started, this part was over. Our neighborhood was ours once again.

There is still a lot to be done in this case, but I said something over and over on Friday and I’m glad it came true. “I don’t want anyone else to get hurt. There have already been enough people hurt. I hope this ends without anyone else getting hurt.”

And it did.

Watching The Sausage Get Made

Making news — writing articles, interviewing people, editing video — it is often compared to sausage getting made. No one wants to see it until it’s nice and tidy, and hopefully tasty.

But with the advent of social media and a 24-hour news cycle, more and more people are now getting to watch the sausage get made.

On Wednesday, April 17, 2013, that sausage was ugly. It was early in the afternoon when I started seeing tweets that CNN was reporting that a suspect had been identified in the Boston bombings. I pulled up CNN.com on my computer at work and started listening to John King.

It was all according to sources close to the investigation. No one had confirmed this; no one was talking about it. But CNN is a reputable news source, right, so it must be right, right?

Wrong. And not just a little wrong, very wrong.

Not only was there no suspect identified, but King had gone as far as to report that this person had been arrested. Again, quite wrong.

Every network and local station had scrambled to get on air, to get reporters and photographers to the federal courthouse to await the arrival of this mystery suspect. A bomb threat was called into the courthouse causing an evacuation and confusion. And for what?

For nothing.

King’s “source” was wrong. King was wrong. CNN was wrong. And all of the stations, newspapers, and online outlets that reported, “As CNN is reporting…” were wrong.

At the end of the day, no one was arrested. A suspect had not been identified. And CNN was backpedaling like a monkey on a unicycle.

It was a sad day for Journalism.

“I’m OK”

When you hear those words you know not everything is OK.

“What is going on at the finish line?” It was the first question my husband asked when he called on Monday, April 15, 2013. He didn’t need to say what finish line, there was no question.

The Boston Marathon finish line – the one we were at not 24 hours before.

It was Jackson's and Campbell's first trip to the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

It was Jackson’s and Campbell’s first trip to the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

“There have been explosions at the finish line,” he said, and I started to freak out. He was at Fenway Park, just down the street. He must have sensed my panic because then he said it.

“I’m OK.”

If someone reassures you of this, you know it’s not good. And by that point I had turned on the television and it wasn’t good… not at all.

Two explosions. Seconds apart. In one of the busiest places of the city that day. Dozens injured, likely some killed. It was mayhem.

I was looking for my friends who work in television – especially those who work for WBZ, which broadcasts the race live. I could see some of them, but I knew there were so many more there.

My husband called back, he was being shifted to work in news. I pleaded with him to be careful, to stay away from that area, to come home to me and the babies.

“I’m OK,” he said.

I started getting texts from friends and family across the globe. “Are you OK?” “Please tell me you’re not there.” “What the hell?”

Watching the race from Heartbreak Hill.

Watching the race from Heartbreak Hill.

We had gone to the race, but we watched from Heartbreak Hill at Mile 20 in Newton and had come home for lunch and naps.

The texts kept coming. I called my mom.

“We’re OK.”

She hadn’t heard yet and immediately thought we had been in an accident. “No, someone bombed the finish line of the marathon,” I told her, breaking down into tears for the first time. Many, many more tears would come.

I was trying to keep an eye on the babies, who were thankfully blissfully unaware of what was going on, and still trying to catch glimpses of my friends and my former colleagues, and try to figure out what had happened.

My husband sent a text, he was being sent to a hospital to gather video and interviews. “Please be careful.” It was all I could say back.

I was glued to the television, still answering texts from around the world and talking with my mom here and there. She must have offered a half dozen times to come watch the babies so I could focus on the news.

“I’m OK,” I reassured her.

That night, my husband returned home much later than he planned. The babies were already asleep. I had a massive migraine from stress and not eating and drinking properly. As soon as I heard him walk through the door, I jumped up and hugged him.

“We’re OK.”