WBAL helicopter images provide big, early edge in TV derailment coverage

The Baltimore Sun

There was no doubt about which Baltimore station was the one to turn to in the immediate wake of the CSX train derailment Tuesday afternoon in Baltimore County.

For the first 10 minutes or so, WBAL-TV, the Hearst-owned NBC affiliate, was the only station with live overhead helicopter shots of the wreckage along the tracks and the fires sending plumes of smoke into the air.

Normally, breaking coverage on such major stories is a dogfight between WBAL and WJZ, which also owns a helicopter.

But WJZ's helicopter was not available Tuesday, according to K.C. Robertson, spokesman for the CBS-owned station

"Our normal helicopter was grounded due to a maintenance problem, so we had to wait for another helicopter to arrive from its home base in the Washington area," Robertson told The Sun in explaining the delay of overhead live shots.

Roberston said WJZ was "first on the ground" with Adam May on the air from Pulaski Highway near the scene of the derailment. He also claimed WJZ was first to get a briefing of facts from Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and the county's fire chief, John Hohman.

May, who is leaving at the end of the month for Al Jazeera America, did provide strong  reporting from the field, and Mary Bubala was solid in the studio for WJZ.

But those overhead shots were the ballgame in the early going. They were carried on CNN and appeared on TV and newspaper websites across the country.

"With a story of such magnitude, you absolutely need to have overhead shots," said Dan Joerres, general manager of WBAL-TV. "This is when it pays to have resources such as your own chopper and multiple reporters."

Roy Taylor reported from the helicopter for WBAL during that early coverage. Lisa Robinson did excellent work at the anchor desk for WBAL.

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