Finally, a Media Success Story: In Praise of the Boston Local News

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April 19 2013 4:05 AM

Finally, a Media Success Story: On Craziest Night Ever, Boston Local News Keeps It Together

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Police with guns drawn search for a suspect on April 19, 2013, in Watertown, Mass.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Local Boston television news has done a fantastic job covering the absolutely crazy goings-on in and around the city on Thursday night. I was on the scene covering the shootings at MIT, but I withdrew once I saw half the police cars there speed down Memorial Drive toward Watertown. Watertown is far, and I don't have a car, so I called it a night and headed to a bar for a beer and some food. The bar had WBZ-TV playing live when I walked in, and I was transfixed by the coverage. That’s partly because the evening’s events were totally insane. But I was also really impressed by WBZ’s coverage.

WBZ was quick to get on the scene and was able to set up before police started securing the perimeter and preventing people from getting through. Along with getting there fast, they did a great job providing context and clarity to the events of an extraordinarily confusing night. The station’s local knowledge clearly showed, as the anchors were able to describe the streets and the neighborhood with precision. The network had at least two reporters on the scene, and the anchors bounced back and forth between each of them for updates and interviews with locals and passers-by. At one point, they got a local restaurant manager on the phone to narrate, live, the scene outside his window. (The manager mentioned that a cop had come in to use the restroom and told him that "all hell was breaking loose.") All the while, the anchors were careful to note that nothing had been confirmed, that at that point they couldn't definitively state that this had anything to do with the marathon bombings, and that Watertown-area viewers should stay in their homes.

I'll contrast this to CNN, which has not acquitted itself well this week. That network, which was playing on another television at the bar, spent way too much time focusing on Jake Tapper, who was standing outside of Copley Square, miles away from Watertown. At one point, Tapper noted that a garbage truck had just driven past him and that viewers should not be alarmed. He then took pains to note that he was nowhere near Watertown.

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In conclusion: Kudos to WBZ.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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