Station to Station

Austin News Outlets All Over Plane Crash

2/18/2010 05:09:46 PM

Austin’s TV news outlets sprang into action when a small plane crashed into a federal building in DMA No. 49 this morning. Police are investigating what may have caused the pilot, his name given as Andrew Joseph Stack, to crash into the building in Austin.

The stations are too. Belo’s KVUE is the news powerhouse in Austin, which also features stations owned by Fox and LIN, another managed by Nexstar, and a Time Warner Cable 24-hour news channel.

“It’s all hands on deck when something like this happens,” says KXAN-KNVA GM Eric Lassberg, who had 10 reporters and a dozen photogs on the scene around 3 pm ET. “The entire staff is focused on the story. One thing after the other keeps unfolding.”

Stations went wall to wall with the story, which broke around 10 a.m. local time. KEYE went back to scheduled programming at 2 p.m.

LIN made the most of its duopoly, switching live coverage to its CW outlet when the Olympics started up on NBC affiliate KXAN at 2 p.m.

KVUE was live from around 10:30 to 2:30, and again starting at 4:30 p.m. local time. GM Patti C. Smith, like Lassberg, says it’s all-in at the station. “We called in people who were supposed to be off today,” she says. “We used every resource we had.”

That involved other Belo properties, such as a chopper and truck from its San Antonio station KENS, a truck from KHOU Houston and reporters from WFAA Dallas.

Stations are using their web platforms for the real time updates. KXAN.com has a live stream on the home page; an eyewitness named Lyric Olivarez said “it sounded like an earthquake…the whole building shook.”

A KXAN reporter covered the terrorism angle, saying NORAD deployed a pair of F-16s to the area and the FBI was on the scene too.

KVUE has loads of video showing black smoke streaming from the low-slung building. In a live stream a little after 2 p.m. ET, a reporter read a chilling letter said to be written by the pilot blasting what he called a Big Brother government.

“Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different,” it concludes. “Take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”

The video on the KVUE home page features a 15-second pre-roll suggesting users purchase M&Ms for their Super Bowl party, which takes away from the gravity of the breaking news. The pre-roll over on LIN’s KXAN.com seems a little more appropriate: an ad for the station’s iPhone app.

Nearly the whole of the MyFoxAustin.com home page (where the above picture comes from) is dedicated to the plane crash. There’s no pre-roll on the video–one click and you’re getting a live stream from the crash site. A box on the home page also shows the most recent Twitter posts on the topic.

Multiple stations are investigating the link between the pilot’s home burning down this morning and the Piper Cherokee crashing.

KEYE has a reporter at the site of the house fire about a mile and a half from the crash site, talking about the connection. Its weareaustin.com site has the full text of what’s said to be Stack’s lengthy suicide letter, which had been posted online.

24/7 cable channels of course often thrive in the face of local breaking news. But around 2:30 ET, News 8 Austin’s website lagged behind its broadcast competition in terms of coverage of the breaking news. The one story dedicated to the crash quotes CNN saying the house fire and crash are related. The site features photos from Flickr and video sent in by a viewer, which came up blank on our player.

News 8’s video, does, however, come up on CNN.com’s report on the crash.

Today’s incident might bring back some chilling recent memories in the market; the November shooting on the Ft. Hood military base that took 12 lives is located on the outskirts of the Austin DMA.

The GMs say crime is relatively low in Austin, which makes today’s event stand out that much more. “It’s one of the largest spot news stories we’ve ever done,” says Smith.

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