Monday, January 28, 2008

Live From, Uh, New York?

ABC News' billboard in Times Square, 1/25/08

How does one cover a fire in a city 2,000 miles away? Well, if the fire turns out to be less than a holocaust (look it up - a "holocaust" originally meant a devastating fire), it's not that hard. Also, if you're able to tap into a huge network of Vegas people from the blogs and list-servs, it's also doable. Not ideal, but doable.

Here's what I ended up with. I got quite a ribbing from my family for the idea that I could write a piece in this manner. As I said, it's not how I'd normally do it. But in a pinch -- evidently the Times simply could not find another reporter in Vegas -- it'll do.

My Las Vegas Weekly column will discuss this further, but there was something else about this experience. Since I wasn't there, I was glued to the TV. And, while I was thrilled to see that KVBC logo in the corner indicating that CNN was using Miles' TV station's footage, it was just sickening to realize that even in its hour of trauma, Vegas just isn't taken seriously.

There I was, near tears watching the apparent destruction of a major structure and worrying about the pandemonium of thousands of guests and employees having to get out. I assumed that there were tourists in the upper floors who were trapped and possibly dead. That it all worked out OK does not minimize what it looked and felt like in the beginning of the crisis.


But the folks on cable news? They thought the fire was entertaining. One CNN reporter actually wondered jokingly in the earliest stages whether the Monte Carlo buffet comp he’d recently received in the mail was still valid. FOX News Channel, which carried every O.J. Simpson press conference live, didn’t bother to pick up its local affiliate’s feed from the briefing by Las Vegas Fire Chief Steven Smith. And, yes, some bozoette on one of those stations – can’t recall which – really thought she was clever muttering, “Like Paris Hilton would say, that’s hot!” Can you imagine such irreverence if this had been the Sears Tower?

Just as amazing was how quickly the story died the minute it turned out that no humans had. Were I not on vacation, I would be pushing editors to let me do the obvious follow-up: A 32-story building containing 5,000 or so people caught major fire and everyone got out calmly. And alive. Imagine that.

8 comments:

Chuckmonster said...

I agree with you whole heartedly. The coverage of the fire was quite glib on the news networks and filled with tons of bad facts and worse jokes. Unfortunately, the "if it bleeds it leads" mantra is still alive and true. Thankfully everyone escaped with only a handful of minor injuries. Kudos should be loudly trumpeted to CCFD and MGMMirage for having their evacuation and firefighting plans organized (not to mention fire alarm technology that wasn't repurposed or jerry rigged for inspection purposes only).

ChrisR said...

A 32-story building containing 5,000 or so people caught major fire and everyone got out calmly. And alive. Imagine that.

This Steve, is why you are a wonderful human being and excellent journalist.

Josh said...

It was pretty startling...I was sitting in the poker room at the Orleans playing a tournament for the last hour or so of the fire, and about 2/3 of the players were paying no attention to it at all, even though half the TVs in the room were tuned to it. The first sign to me that it was much less of a deal than it might have been was seeing the shots from the helicopter; it made it obvious it was all facade, and thus styrofoam. But hearing from people in other parts of the country, indeed, you'd think the whole town was in flames.

Wish I'd kept my journalist chops up -- last time I played stringer was for the SLA shootout in '74.

THE STRIP PODCAST GUYS said...

SLA Shootout? Do tell! I'm unfamiliar. Was in diapers back then.

Josh said...

Oh! Well, a while after the SLA kidnapped Patricia Heart, most of them were cornered in what they thought was a safe house in LA. There was a big shootout, something like 9000 shots fired, all broadcast live on radio; for most of it, I was in my car, driving too and from a music gig in Irvine, listening to the whole thing unfold. When I got home, the phone rang; it was the VOA in Washington, looking for my Dad (who was West Coast bureau chief.) I said, "You should know he's in SF, since you assigned him to go there." They said, "well, yeah, but we can't find any of our LA stringers." So I volunteered, put together a one minute story, and read it over the phone to them. I assume it was aired, because they sent me a check for $35. My only paid journalism job! And most of it written while I was still in clown makeup...

THE STRIP PODCAST GUYS said...

I guess that's what they mean when they say you've got a face for radio...

Dave said...

"wonderful human being and excellent journalist." And here I thought you couldn't be both. Kudos.

Roberta said...

It was great fun reading the story, knowing your situation Steve. Beautifully done.