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D.C. stations torn between sites

Sep 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

When the first hijacked jetliner crashed into the World Trade Center, WTTG-TV, Fox’s owned-and-operated station in Washington, dispatched four news teams to New York to cover the breaking events.
“We deployed every person we could put our hands on,” said VP and News Director Katherine Green.
Two crews traveled by train, oneby car and another made its way to a heliport to go by chopper.
But when news broke about 40 minutes later that the Pentagon had also been attacked, the station ordered its journalists to return to Washington immediately.
The WTTG reporters at the heliport never had a chance to get on the chopper because as it was refueling, smoke could be seen from the Pentagon. They immediately headed there instead.
Meanwhile, police commandeered the chopper and used it for emergency purposes, such as to transport medical personnel to the Pentagon, Ms. Green said.
The station did eventually send journalists to New York to cover the World Trade Center tragedy, but not until 1 p.m. that day.
Meanwhile, at Gannett Broadcasting-owned CBS affiliate WUSA-TV, News Director David Roberts never considered sending reporters to New York because he knew he could rely on CBS network feeds.
At ABC affiliate WJLA-TV, news crews were dispatched to New York and sites around Washington after the first plane struck the WTC.
Steve Hammel, VP of news, sent a team to the Pentagon in case a press conference was to be held. As a result, photographer Mike Forcucci was on the scene when a jetliner crashed there.
The journalists traveling to New York ran into logistical problems, first heading to an airport, then abandoning that idea for a train. But the train was halted by security officials in Baltimore, so they rented a van, arriving in New York in the late afternoon.
After the WTC was hit, Megan McGrath, a reporter with WRC-TV, an NBC O&O, was on her way to Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va., with a camera crew to do a story on airport security when terror struck the Pentagon. While on the highway, the news team heard an explosion, saw a fireball over the nearby military complex and went there instead.
“It was shocking. I was shaking,” she said. “When we arrived here, it was before the police, before the fire departments.”
Most of the stations carried a mix of local and national coverage on the day of the attacks, but WUSA-TV devoted extensive coverage to the local angle, with continuous reports from the Pentagon and area hospitals and updates on school closings.
“We felt that we had an obligation and a responsibility to provide comprehensive coverage-without ignoring what happened in New York-to the entire region,” Mr. Roberts said.
NewsChannel 8, an all-news cable channel based in Springfield, Va., had nonstop live coverage of the developments for 35 of the initial 40 hours, said Wayne Lynch, VP of news and programming.
The channel, with no national network to rely on for footage, covered the story with reporters dispatched around the city and at the Pentagon, hospitals and airports. It supplemented its coverage with feeds from ABC NewsOne.
Costs for overtime, loss of advertising (which resumed at 4 a.m. Sept. 13), satellite use and so on is in the tens of thousands of dollars and could reach six figures.