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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Covering the Boston Marathon Bombing


The Boston Marathon bombing incident was all over the headlines last week. Two explosives went off by the finish line of the race. Three people were killed and more than 170 people were injured.

Team Wednesday did not need to combat the breaking news directly since the incident took place two days before our shift. But we still arrived in the newsroom as prepared as possible. The story was still developing and we had to keep up with emerging new information.

Police released the third fatality’s identity late Tuesday night. As the web producer, I determined that that update needed to be the first thing up on the web in the morning. The story included basic information of the victim, a picture of her, a brief description of how she got involved, and a few more paragraphs about injuries and the ongoing investigation. This morning brief was important to the readers because they were thirsty for new information before starting a new day.

The web team then proceeded to break down the Boston coverage into multiple elements. In one story, we focused on the various races held in Boston and Los Angeles in memory of the victims. It not only showed the reactions to the incident but also provided a local angle.

One challenge I faced was communicating with people who have just suffered a loss. I somehow got the cellphone number of the just identified victim’s roommate. It would really strengthen the newscast if the roommate would speak to us about how she felt and describe her relationship with the victim. Her comments would help viewers get to know the victim as a person and understand what Bostonians were going through at this horrific moment. But I was hesitant to dial the number.

This situation reminded me of an interview I did with a father whose daughter was murdered and dumped in a plastic bag in a park. On the one hand, I really wanted to get in touch with the source to enhance my story. On the other hand, I didn’t want to bother the victim’s family or friends. I worried my reporting would become an intrusion and cause more pain to my source.

Eventually I made up my mind to call, because I believed that I could handle the delicate communication well and I convinced myself that the interview’s significance would outweigh the concern of intrusion. The roommate’s point of view could help the public to remember the victim and brings another angle to the tragedy. The interview was of strong public interest and needed to be done. After discussing with my instructor Stacy and spending some time drafting what I would say on the phone, I finally worked up my courage to call.

Although the girl never answered my call or returned my voice messages, I was happy that I tried the best I could. Things do not always go as well as we have hoped, but we as producers and reporters must push hard as much as possible to get the news for the viewers.

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