With its building flooded out, Sinclair’s WCTI in New Bern, N.C., had to get creative to bring its viewers news coverage of Hurricane Florence. Facebook carried the load for a few days, and then when it got back on the air, producing newscasts from locations all over town kept viewers in the know. “We have a lot of young people here and I’m impressed by how well they’re taking it and how well they’re doing. They know they have a task,” said Sean Finn, WCTI’s creative services director.
According to a Sept. 14 AP story, the weather service later measured a storm surge 10 feet deep in the city.
So starting on Friday, Sept. 14, WCTI took coverage from its sister station about 200 miles away, WPDE in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and WJLA in Washington, D.C., both also ABC affiliates owned by Sinclair.
With no power, no building or studio, WCTI took its news coverage to its Facebook page, where according to Sean Finn, WCTI’s creative services director, more than 10,000 people turned to see what was going on in their community.
On Friday, Sept. 14, WCTI posted 57 stories to its Facebook page.
Here’s a Facebook post capturing the moment Valentina Wilson and Wes Goforth, WCTI anchors, get bogged down in high water in Goforth’s car.
“Radio stations were off the air,” said Finn, “so Facebook was the only way they could stay in touch. So we were broadcasting pretty much the entire newscast on Facebook. Our reporters, everywhere they went, they did a Facebook Live. And they were in places they probably couldn’t get to with a live truck.”
According to Finn, on Sunday night, Sept. 16, at 6, WCTI returned to broadcasting the news on air, but without a building or studio the station had to get creative, doing its morning news, its 5, 5:30 and 11p.m. newscasts from remote locations around the area — parks, churches, downtown, the emergency services staging area, FEMA headquarters — anywhere that made sense and could send a signal.
Finn said they would “beam the signal via a satellite truck back to WJAL and then back to the station’s transmitter, and then out that way.”
Producing multiple newscasts from remote locations is technically difficult, and takes a lot of man and women power.
“We have a lot of young people here and I’m impressed by how well they’re taking it and how well they’re doing,”said Finn. “They know they have a task. Everyone is chipping in here, MCOs [master control operators] working the lights, production guys out doing camera, everybody’s been going like crazy.”
Finn says a local college, Craven County Community College, gave the station use of its library and that’s where many were doing their editing on laptops.
But Finn said none of this would have happened without the help they got from Sinclair’s corporate offices.
“What I’ve found personally amazing is the support that I’m getting from corporate; it’s incredible.”
Finn said his general manager, Matt Bowman, kept in constant contact with him, always asking if he was OK. Mike McCormick, Sinclair’s regional news director, was on site to help. Among some others Finn mentioned as calling and offering to help were Dana Feldman and Dan Zimmerman from Sinclair corporate marketing and Stan Melton and Bonnie Woods from WJLA’s marketing team.
“My phone was ringing off the hook, with what can I do for you, what can I do for you, what can I do for you.”
NOTE: Finn sent his family to New Orleans so he could focus on what he had to do. His home suffered minor damage, but one of Finn’s producers lost everything.
The situation in New Bern as of Friday, Sept. 21, when I interviewed Finn, is that there are still pockets of flooding and in some places, the water is still rising.
The transmitter is still running on diesel and the WCTI building is being cleaned up. Finn said he bought the biggest steak he could find on Thursday night, Sept. 20, grilled it and slept in his own bed.
“And I’m back at it today.”