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Covering the G-20

Editor’s Note : ‘From The Field’ is a regular ShopTalk column that offers first-hand reports from the front lines of broadcast journalism. Today’s editorial comes from Coleen Marren, the News Director at Pittsburgh’s KDKA-TV. In light of the recent G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, we asked Coleen to share her experience covering the large-scale event.

Coleen Marren
The selection of Pittsburgh as the host city for the 2009 G-20 Summit presented the region with the opportunity to highlight to a national and international audience the significant transformation it has made since the decline of the US steel industry. It also created some significant operational challenges for Pittsburgh media. Following the announcement, our coverage initially focused on the reasons that Pittsburgh was chosen to host this event and on how the summit would likely impact the local community. Our initial planning included providing the staff with the safety equipment and the training that would allow them to safely cover the event and its related protests. As a result of KDKA’s downtown location we were presented with some challenges that were somewhat unique to our station. Since access to downtown was severely limited we had to develop plans to help our staff members with access to the building. Additionally, since downtown protests were a real possibility building security was an issue. We also developed plans should we have had to abandon the newsroom or even the building. These considerations were most likely unique to us.

As the event arrived, our news focus shifted to live coverage of the direct impact the summit was having on our city including traffic, parking, access to businesses and ultimately the skirmishes between more than 4000 protestors and the unprecedented police presence that was visible throughout the city. We also had reporters committed to providing coverage of the official G-20 events including the Summit itself and the related social events throughout the city.

Our coverage challenges included the ability to navigate the city with the many Secret Service and local police security restrictions that were in place. Additionally, covering the protester-police skirmishes had the normal challenges related to covering a very fluid, live event with the added security risks associate with this type of event. While the protests were by comparison to Seattle or London very controlled, we were very happy that we had invested the time and money in the appropriate safety equipment and riot training for our staff.

Ultimately, the majority of our coverage was local in focus. We provided local viewers with the information they needed to navigate the two day challenges the Summit presented. Additionally, we focused on all of the benefits the region might accrue from hosting the Summit as well as some of the problems it created. We also profiled a number of the regional assets that the delegations visited while in the city. Although certainly secondary to the local angle, we did have our political editor stationed at the convention center throughout the Summit to report on any news that might come out of the meetings. The most significant news was the multi-national reaction to the Iranian nuclear program. Our reporter, Jon Delano, participated in the Presidential press conference and likely due to some familiarity with Jon as a result of his extensive campaign coverage, he was called on for a question by the President.

Our staff members have experience covering many large events in Pittsburgh. What made this event somewhat unique was the challenging security perimeter that was established along with the ever present possibility of violent protests. Overwhelmingly, our staff members were excited to have the opportunity to cover an event of this magnitude despite the inherent challenges. We believe that we were appropriately prepared for the worst case scenario but thankfully the city escaped with relatively minor problems.

Coleen Marren is the News Director at CBS O&O KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh.

If you would like to comment on From the Field, or have a suggestion for a future edition, email fromthefield@tvspy.com.

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