WABC New York VP of News talks about the challenges of covering three mega-stories — Hurricane Sandy, the presidential election and a Nor’easter — just three months after taking the job. “The fact that we had three stories back-to-back and the team was still coming in with smiles on their faces and wanting to do what they could do is, like, wow.”
Camille Edwards was still getting used to the ins and outs of managing the newsroom of WABC New York when the market was hammered Hurricane Sandy on Monday, Oct. 29. While continuing to cover the devastation brought by the storm, Edwards and her team had to divert resources the following week to cover the election and the a fierce Nor’easter that dumped up to six inches of snow on much of the metropolitan area.
Edwards, who joined the ABC flagship as VP of news in August from NBC-owned WRC Washington (DMA 8), is no stranger to big stories. But in this interview with TVNewsCheck correspondent Diana Marszalek, she says that the back-to-back-back events were enough to wipe out even the most seasoned pro. “It’s been a crazy few weeks,” she says. “The news gods certainly had New York in their sights.”
An edited transcript:
How was your team able to cover Hurricane Sandy — a storm of such enormity — successfully, considering all the logistical and safety concerns the storm posed?
It was just a matter of really planning, and I think that is something this newsroom does very well. Our meteorologist, Lee Goldberg, had warned us in advance that it was going to make a dead hit for us so we really knew what we were going to be dealing with.
And we were in the right spots. We were in the locations where people were hit the hardest. We have a great weather team and that really helped us. This station is equipped with great people, who obviously know the market.
How far and wide did you send crews, and what was their workload like?
We certainly blanketed the tri-state area. In New York, we were everywhere.
We were strategic about where we put our teams. They stayed in hotels near the locations where they were live. But they worked long hours and did an amazing job and without a whole lot of sleep.
What sort of equipment did you use to transmit stories — and stay in touch with your team? Did you ever lose communication?
We used microwave and satellite and the backpacks for live shots, which was really helpful. As far as getting live shots and stuff, there are always little glitches here and there but on air we were very clean.
Cell phone and email is how we stayed in touch and how we got updates. There came a point where email was taking forever to go through and we certainly had our moments, but overall I think we weathered it pretty well.
Who was in charge of overseeing the logistics it takes to cover a story this big?
We have a core group of managers including our managing editor and ENG supervisor and EPs. It was really a group effort and we were able to be smart about it because we were getting information on locations from our meteorologists.
What were the challenges of mobilizing that effort while still being new to the market, as well as the newsroom?
It’s amazing to me to see how this team operates…. I relied on them a lot. They are experts in knowing the market, just knowing where to go and who to talk to. This is a machine that is well oiled.
It sounds like that left quite an impression on you.
It’s very emotional for me — and I’m not an emotional person. When I wrote my thank you [to the staff], I had tears in my eyes remembering how hard they worked while dealing with their own personal struggles. The dedication of this team is like nothing I have seen before.
How did that dedication show in coverage, as well as support for hurricane victims?
We did over 100 hours of local news from Oct. 28 to Nov. 4 and we were on the air for 42 consecutive hours from Sunday to Tuesday. The other thing that did really well for us was our website, 7online. On Monday we had 4.4 million-plus page views and beat WNBC and WCBS combined, and that is huge for us. It was the highest day ever in our history. We had over 10,000 viewer photos.
We also streamed all our coverage online and simulcast on ESPN radio, which really helped. And then the company raised $16.8 million with our Day of Giving.
Did your commercial load change during that wall-to-wall coverage?
During our wall-to-wall we did not have a whole lot of commercials. Maybe at the end of each hour we would use a commercial break to transition to a new anchor team but that was rare.
Did anyone on the news team suffer his or her own loss from the storm?
I had many people on the team that didn’t have power for a very long time. I have one weekend editor who pretty much lost her home. I have a Web editor who lost his car. The amazing part, the piece that makes all of us so grateful, is that everybody was safe.
How were you able to move into Election Day coverage when so much of the area was still suffering from Sandy?
Obviously, we couldn’t say that because of Sandy we can’t give you election coverage. We just bucked up. We had reporters going to Chicago and Boston.
We had done a lot of election planning before the storm. We had planned for months, and enough so that we had those plans in place and it was really seamless. But then there was the Nor’easter. That’s when you start asking questions like what is going on here.
You must have all been wiped out.
Actually, I was tired, but you know how the adrenaline gets going when you are covering such a huge story. And the team really was just tired and a lot of them didn’t have power in their own homes, but that didn’t stop them from the great coverage.
Each of these three big stories would have been enough to wear down any newsroom. The fact that we had three stories back-to-back and the team still was coming in with smiles on their faces and wanting to know what the could do is, like, wow.
Still glad you came to New York?
I am not saying anything about this being about New York, but who knew it would be this crazy? But this city is so resilient, and this team is so resilient, that we will be ready for whatever comes our way.