Social media has proved an invaluable tool to Buffalo, N.Y., TV news operations throughout the week-long ordeal that started last Tuesday when early-season storms dumped seven feet of snow in some areas. As the snow piled up, the stations went wall-to-wall with their coverage, but were short-staffed and sometimes unable to put ENG vehicles on snow-clogged streets. Reports from viewers started pouring in as soon as the storm hit, providing a bounty of user-generated content.
As temperatures in Buffalo, N.Y., rose to 60 degrees Monday, raising the risk of flooding from fast-melting snow and roof collapses, the market’s three news-producing TV stations relied heavily on images and information provided by viewers through social media.
The stations in the country’s 52nd largest market — Gannett’s NBC affiliate WGRZ, Scripps’ ABC affiliate WKBW and LIN Media’s CBS affiliate WIVB — kept close watch on Facebook, Twitter and websites for updates, particularly from locals near area creeks that threatened to overflow, the Buffalo, Cayuga, Cazenovia and Ellicott among them.
Social media has proved an invaluable tool throughout the week-long ordeal that started last Tuesday when early-season storms dumped seven feet of snow in some areas, the stations say.
The storms, responsible for 13 deaths, hit with such ferocity that neighborhoods, as WGRZ News Director Jeff Woodard says, were, “completely shut off from the rest of the world.”
As the snow piled up, the stations went wall-to-wall with their coverage, but were short-staffed (like many viewers, reporters and producers were trapped in their homes) and unable to put ENG vehicles on snow-clogged streets.
“The old style of newsgathering was not going to happen. We knew that from the start,” Woodard says, who gave up getting into work after six hours that day.
“We realized the only thing we were going to get was what people were sending us.”
Reports from viewers started pouring in over social media as soon as the storm hit, providing a bounty of user-generated content — pictures, video, stories and news — that filled newscasts, and populated apps and websites.
Woodard says the entire newsroom started combing social media for content near instantly, repurposing it to “turn out site into an engagement opportunity.” Posts from viewers came in via Facebook, Twitter, and Vine, he says. Users emailed the newsroom video.
When content was particularly compelling, WGRZ anchors interviewed contributors on air using Facetime. “And the more we did it, the more people reached out to talk to us,” Woodard says.
Local TV news leaders credit social media with enabling them to break numerous stories — a college women’s basketball team being stuck in their bus for 26 hours, structural failures, among them — and to issue warnings about the dangers of being trapped in a car while it is running and price gouging for snow removal.
Woodard says “citizen journalists” even played a role in furthering his newsroom’s “watchdog journalism brand” during the last week. “They have guided us in challenging the government in how good a job it’s doing,” he says.
When the station had a couple of neighborhood town supervisors on-air talking about snow removal — and what they had already accomplished — viewers from the areas they represent were on Facebook and Twitter “saying that what they were saying is a lie,” Woodard says. That message was instantly relayed to the anchor interviewing the officials, who in turned questioned their claims.
Broadcasters have also been using social media to gather, as well as distribute, some of the more positive stories that have come out of this mess, providing a boost for storm-weary people who need it.
WKBW’s early coverage included an iPhone report filed by a reporter who was taken in by a stranger for the night after being trapped in her car on her way to work. The affiliate also aired stories about firefighters carrying a man to the hospital, and a baby being born before getting there.
Over the weekend, WIVB got a story about a group of Mennonite volunteers who arrived to help with snow removal.
On its website, WGRZ compiled Tweets (#ThankYouWNT) from viewers thanking people who helped them during the storm.
Broadcasters say the outpouring of contributions stem from a range of factors, including the simple fact that “people love to tell their stories of being stuck in the snow,” Woodard says.
Regardless, the system seemed to be working. “We didn’t make a decision to do this,” Woodard says. “This is social media.”
The stations also got a lot of help from other stations in their groups during the week.
A reporter and photographer from Scripps’ WXYZ Detroit have been working at WKWB since last week (a crew from WEWS Cleveland has gone home). Journalists from LIN’s WTNH New Haven, Conn., and WKBN Youngstown, Ohio, arrived at WIVB Friday, and are still there. Staffers from Gannett’s KHOU Houston and WVEC Norfolk, Va., are helping WGRZ.
The Buffalo newsrooms yesterday started to reclaim some sense of normalcy. Staffers who had been snowed-in since last Tuesday for the first time returned to work, newsroom managers say.
And program schedules were restored, with some concessions to the news.
WKBW, for instance, broke in late morning Monday to cover Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press conference. WIVB, which began its latenight newscast early Monday, immediately following the CBS broadcast of the Buffalo Bills-New York Jets game from Detroit.