A Report From the Front Lines in Eagle

Aug 11, 2003  •  Post A Comment

In Eagle, Colo., a waitress named Barb may be the only person who is truly happy that TV crews have invaded her small town.
She works at the Eagle Diner. It’s the restaurant closest to the Kobe Bryant courthouse. Barb had been thinking of retiring soon, but she has put that off and is now hoping that Kobe will go on trial here. Turns out that reporters and photographers leave pretty good tips, especially when they’re spending somebody else’s money.
It’s hard to know exactly how much money various media organizations dumped into the Eagle County economy during the past week. But it’s safe to say it was a significant amount. Authorities estimate that some 500 journalists parachuted into this community of 3,500 people just to cover Kobe Bryant’s first court hearing.
Everyone knew going in that nothing newsworthy would come out of Kobe’s brief appearance before a judge. But for TV newspeople, the first images of a sports superstar standing in court, accused of rape, would be impossible to resist.
Massive Resources
The cable news channels brought in massive resources. Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC can’t get enough of Kobe. Across the street from the courthouse, they built the biggest and most elaborate platforms. These mini-studios are necessary so anchors can sit in director’s chairs and interview “legal experts.” The wooden and steel structures are lined up on the pavement as if we were all waiting for a parade to come by. In a sense, we were. There is a certain kind of status here associated with having the tallest platform with the best view.
For the big guys, money is no object. One resident who lives close to the courthouse told me some network folks had offered him a substantial sum to leave his house for a while and let them move in. He said no.
The rest of us who work in local television were just grateful to have a private room at the Best Western Eagle Lodge. Like all the motels in town, it was booked. Thus, some reporters were rooming with their photographers. When you work 30 hours straight with someone, there is nothing worse.
And we were working long hours. Most L.A., Denver and Philadelphia TV stations sent crews. Kobe went to high school in Philly (a pretty thin connection, but so what). Most of us did live shots for morning, midday, afternoon and then late newscasts. That didn’t leave much time for socializing, even though I kept running into people I had worked with in other markets. In the olden days, such a large gathering of reporters would have filled the local bars, but in the era of 24-hour news, there’s no time for drinking anymore.
Before Kobe arrived, we all previewed what the local newspaper described as “the biggest nonevent since Y2K.” As an example of how far some of us reached for an angle, I waded into the Eagle River to ask a fisherman his opinion on the Bryant case.
Then, finally, it was time for the surreal ending. Bryant arrived to cheers. The photographers and reporters greatly outnumbered the celebrity-watchers who gathered in front of the court. Seven minutes and 20 seconds later, it was over. We waited three days for this?
Most of the TV crews have packed up and left town for now, but we’ll be back for Bryant’s Oct. 9 preliminary hearing. I’m not exactly looking forward to it, but Barb at the Eagle Diner is counting the days.
Eric Spillman is a reporter for KTLA-TV news in Los Angeles.