Thursday, August 25, 2011

Post-Quake Biking and WTOP

I've often said--only half-jokingly--that should the unthinkable happen, and we need to attempt a mass evacuation from DC, that the one guy who'll get you out of here is our Dean of Traffic, Bob Marbourg. Bob was the guy, who, during the hostage crisis at Discovery Channel, steered me calmly into the closest possible parking space. No kidding, the guy could close his eyes and map by heart all the landmarks-- alleys, parking lots, you name it. Thanks to Bob, I got to the staging area ahead of just about everyone. I'm telling you, the guy has a gift.

So, despite the likelihood of a mass evacuation having any success at all (you've no doubt heard the analysis on WTOP and seen it in other news outlets)  I stand by that claim. But I was not surprised to see how many people who relied on bikes--their own or the Capital Bikeshare bikes--found the going much easier than it was for those who rely on transit or driving. The City Paper's Martin Austermuhle had an interesting take on the after-quake's afternoon commute.

And now, permit me to brag about my amazing colleagues at WTOP.

Pictured here: Desiree Smith, News Director Mitchell Miller, Thomas Warren, Brian Oliger and Mike Smeltz

It's not typical for me to be in the Glass Enclosed Nerve Center; I'm usually 'in the field'. But I had raced into the studios to file on an unrelated story when the quake hit. I was already edgy because I was desperately trying to get a balky computer to log my sound for the deadline I was facing. I had minutes to go, and was still banging out copy when the rumbling started.  I was really ticked off,  thinking "Oh, nice! I'm minutes from deadline, and that stinking construction noise is gonna bleed all over my sound, and I'm gonna have to recut, and now I'm toast!" 

When the rumbling persisted, I thought, "Ya know, that feels like what I imagine a real earthquake feels like". When something electrical shorted and threw sparks in one of the smaller studios, I thought, "Oh, this could be bad." At the same time Jim Farley, our Vice President of News and Programming, came racing out of his office--calling out, if memory serves, something along the lines of "Are we getting this?" Meaning, were we rolling and had we started the coverage yet? Within seconds, the entire newsroom was in blanket coverage mode, with everyone, reporters, editors, writers, anchors, calling out "I've got USGS! Who's got Metro? I'll head out to..."

Our anchors Shawn Anderson and Dmitri Sotis were smooth and steady as they juggled the chainsaws thrown at them. Split-second decisions were being made inside and outside the Glass Enclosed Nerve Center. And in the thick of it all is the Editor. That's one of the toughest jobs on the planet. I feel I can say that because I've done it--and not well. If WTOP in breaking news mode can be likened to a plane, the anchors are the pilots, and the Editor is the air traffic controller, getting jammed with a constant flow of often conflicting information from reporters in the field, our networks and wire services and our technical staff in Operations. Do we want to take a live shot with so-and-so? Where do you want to send Reporter A? Reporter B is having trouble getting confirmation, etc. etc.

And who was on the desk? My Californian-colleague, Thomas Warren. It was Thomas who tweeted--in his typically understated style --"If I'm not mistaken, we just had an earthquake in the Glass Enclosed Nerve Center." He then went on to calmly, carefully, get afternoon drive coverage organized and on the air. Unlike many from the West Coast, he resisted the temptation to treat us Easterners like a bunch of weenies for reacting as we did, recognizing how rare a quake of that magnitude is in these parts.

There wasn't a person in that newsroom who didn't pitch in, making sure we got the most reliable, useful, complete information possible. And staffers who were off the air, and off the clock, called in to contribute. I'm sure I sound like a complete homer, but this is when WTOP shows its true value to our listeners--and when I am so proud to say I work there.

Just as emergency first responders are examining their own response, in the coming days, WTOP will take a look at what worked and how we can do it better next time, but I have to say; when the stuff is in the process of hitting the fan? Nobody does it like the people at WTOP.

No comments:

Post a Comment