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U.S. media rush to cover London bombings

July 8, 2005

By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) – What began as a trickle of
news about a power surge at a London Underground station
Thursday quickly morphed into a fast-moving story that was far
more sinister, causing cell phones to ring and BlackBerrys to
buzz well before dawn on the East Coast for top television news
producers, anchors and correspondents.

The Big Three networks hastily scrapped their morning-show
plans as they scrambled to react to the bombings that killed at
least 37 people in the English capital. The saturation coverage
on NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning, America” and CBS’ “The
Early Show” set the stage for a day of near wall-to-wall
coverage on the major broadcast and cable news channels.

The networks’ ability to respond quickly was aided by the
fact that it happened during the business day in London and
that other reporters were assigned to cover the G-8 summit in
nearby Scotland.

“It certainly doesn’t hurt when you’ve got personnel in
place and don’t have to rush people in from home,” said Marcy
McGinnis, CBS News’ senior vp news. “We were able to mobilize
everything very fast. At that time of the day, everyone’s
mobilizing for the morning shows.”

Jim Bell, executive producer of “Today,” said it was clear
by 5:15 a.m. EDT that a full-court press was needed beginning
at 7 a.m. (NBC, like the other broadcasters, aired special
reports well before that.)

“By 6 a.m., we knew that, OK, the 7:30 (half-hour) is gone
and then later, everything is gone,” Bell said, replaced by
wall-to-wall coverage of the bombing. One previously scheduled
guest, Bob Woodward, was pressed into service to talk about
terrorism.

CBS found it had one of the correspondents closest to the
bombing sites in Sheila MacVicar, who was with a camera crew in
central London on an unrelated story. She got on the air
quickly, but it took a heroic effort by a technician driving a
satellite truck in from a London suburb for her to be seen.

“This was a good test for us to make sure we could still
cover things in central London,” McGinnis said of the new
London bureau location.

Other London-based reporters, like Fox News’ Amy Kellogg,
had been covering a portion of the G-8 summit in Scotland when
word of the bombings came in. She rushed to the Edinburgh
airport and, Kellogg said, she was luckier than some of the
journalists who followed the same route because she got a
flight to London immediately.

Kellogg, who has covered terrorism and the threats of
terrorism in the Middle East, said she was struck by what she
saw when she arrived in London. On the way into the city from
the airport, traffic was at a standstill.

“You could see people getting out of their taxis and
walking the remaining stretch of the trip along the highway,
suitcases on wheels because they’re afraid they’ll miss their
flights,” she said.

But she said the calm she found when she reached London
surprised her.

“Londoners are really stoic. As we were driving through
town (on the way to cover the story), I was saying it doesn’t
look like a few hours after a series of bombings. It looks like
business as usual, going through their errands. The people
around weren’t looking shellshocked.”

Thursday’s bombing forced hasty returns to work for marquee
news talent that had been on vacation or on assignment. ABC’s
Diane Sawyer, reporting another story away from New York,
turned around and anchored a special edition of newsmagazine
“Primetime Live” on Thursday. Her “GMA” co-host, Charlie
Gibson, became a marathon man, anchoring the daybreak special
reports and then “World News Tonight” more than 12 hours later.

NBC’s Brian Williams, Katie Couric and Lester Holt got
plenty of airtime. Couric and Holt, who was filling in on
“Today” for Matt Lauer, spent nearly six hours on the air.
Williams anchored continuing coverage on MSNBC from 10 a.m.-2
p.m. EDT, joined by Couric in the last half after she got off
“Today.” Holt carried MSNBC’s anchorship after 2 p.m.

“It’s seamless,” said Mark Effron, vp news and daytime
programing at MSNBC. “It’s comfortable, and we’re thrilled to
be able to do it because it’s using our resources smartly.”

At the same time, the networks used their relationships
with British-based channels to get video and, in some cases,
reporters who could provide what they lacked. ABC News’
extensive relationship with the BBC — allowing ABC to take
video feeds as well as trade reporters with the state-sponsored
broadcaster — gave a partial edge. CBS has a smaller agreement
with the BBC, allowing only video feeds, and a larger one with
BSkyB, while NBC has agreements with ITN.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter




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