While much of the nation is captivated by the news about two escaped, and very dangerous, killers up along the New York/Canada border, it’s very much a matter of public safety for the residents in Plattsburgh, which shares DMA No. 98 with Burlington. Since the story of two men sneaking out of Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y. broke over the weekend, Hearst TV’s WPTZ will have been on live for 37 hours by the end of Friday, says Kyle Grimes, president and general manager. The newsgatherers are following the 400-500 strong law enforcement members’ progress as the search for escaped prisoners Richard W. Matt and David Sweat continues, and sharing public safety information as it is made available by the police.
One recent night, well after dark, tense police—many with firearms drawn—knocked on doors to ask residents to put their exterior lights on and remind them to lock up. WPTZ was able to pass along the info in near real time. “It’s scary stuff,” says Grimes.
Working around the clock, WPTZ staffers are getting assists from other Hearst TV stations in the region, including WCVB Boston, WMUR Manchester and WMTW Portland.
The story has evolved in “fits and starts,” says Grimes. Unlike, say, a wildfire or tornado, there is, at the moment, no visible antagonist to fix the camera on, there’s lots of false hope as tips go dead, a vast geographic area of interest, and a wide variety of information to put to the credibility test. For today, law enforcement officials have identified a 30-acre perimeter they anticipate, or at least hope, may hold one or both of the suspects.
National, and even a bit of international, media is massed around the 30-acre perimeter. Grimes, a former news director in Burlington-Plattsburgh, calls it the biggest story for the market since an ice storm in 1998, and that one may pale in comparison. It’s the highest week of web traffic in WPTZ history; from June 6-11 last year to June 6-11 this year, page views on wptz.com are up 322%.
Elsewhere in the market on Day 7 of the manhunt, WCAX.com reports that police have "no reason to believe the escapees left this area."
He was reminded of the important work being done by WPTZ, WCAX, WFFF-WVNY and others when picking up breakfast for his staffers at McDonald’s, and seeing a few dozen residents huddled around a TV in the corner, watching the local news. “It hit me—the power of what we do, people hanging on to get details,” he says. “For these people, it’s a public safety story.”
And so the local news folks will stay on it, even after some of the national outlets move on to the next entrancing story. “We’ll be here until they say the [convicts] are no longer here,” says Grimes, “or until they capture them.”