Monday, May 16, 2005

Mt. St. Helens

Just think. Many of the people reporting this week on the 25th anniversary of Mt. St. Helens weren't even born when it blew its top in 1980.

Back then, the reporting was great and the competition fierce. The editor for the defunct Northwest Magazine (every Sunday in the O) took crews away from the daily coverage, almost causing fist-fights. Photographers from all organizations had to hold steady in helicopters and single engine planes to get those iconic shots of the eruption. No gyrocams here. The reporting (radio and TV) was breathless, but (if you were around), weren't we all? Everyone, rightly, won awards - including a Pulitzer for the Longview paper for its awesome coverage.

Now, when the mountain burps, it's 'round the clock coverage (they assume people are home), repeated every 10 minutes for your enjoyment (which means, you only have to stick around). Most of the time, the anchors don't know their geography (what's north or west) or have taken the time to read up on the history.

Now, most of the stations have pretty seasoned people on the desk, so they know where to go - and the photographers (who I think are the true journalists in most organizations), make sure their papers and stations get the best pictures.

I guess my point here is to pay homage to a time when reporting and not technology told the story, when the real heroes in newsrooms were the technicians who figured out how to get images and words transmitted (no cell phones, satellites, etc.). And when stations knew that breaking news isn't a T-bone accident on 82nd & Duke.

Cheers to the pioneers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI...Brooks Burford (midday news anchor at KEX) I believe was the first reporter to get a live shot out of the crater of Mt St Helens for KIRO-TV in Seattle. I think it involved a helicopter and four or five microwave jumps to Seattle.
Quite an achievement in 1980!

Monday, May 16, 2005 9:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you get a chance, pick up Frank Parchman's book on Mt. St. Helens, "Echoes of Fury." While our coverage focuses on the awesome file footage, we're neglecting to point out the extreme ineptitude of the Washington State government. They let the timber industry draw the red zone, so they could keep logging. They had information that a massive eruption was imminent, and they ignored it, and later covered it up. They (and President Carter) wrongly claimed the 57 (dubious figure--likely more) people who died were in forbidden territory. On May 18 and days following, local authorities (especially Cowlitz County) blew off phone calls from anxious relatives--who had information on where loved ones were camping and might be found. People learned of family members deaths by seeing the license plates on charred vehicles in news stories.

The footage is spectacular, but so were the f***ups.

Monday, May 16, 2005 1:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Brooks Burford said...

Hey, somebody remembers! I engineered it myself, worked out the logistics, we did shots for Seattle and Portland. It's great when somebody else pays the bills. I was also the first reporter on the crater floor, we fanagled ourselves in through the Allen Committee as research assistants for a UW volcanologist. We landed July 18, 1980, sampled the lavadome, flew out. Four days later it blew up bigtime. Got lotsa mileage out of that. I handed Harry Truman the last two newspapers he ever read on Saturday afternoon, May 17, 1980, the Times & PI. Boy did that lodge of his smell of cat poop. I was also the only reporter to do some actual work for the seismology lab at UW. Absolutely amazing to watch a mountain explode. A few times.

Monday, May 16, 2005 4:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was a freakin amazing day for sure. And all before computers, internet, cell phones and reporters who worried about when their truck will show up and what time they'll get off.
Oh yeah.. does anyone remember the live truck that Koin lost for a week or so...

Monday, May 16, 2005 7:43:00 PM  

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