Covering a story like Pope Francis’ first U.S. visit this week involves a lot more than deciding where to put cameras. News stations in Washington, New York, Philadelphia and other cities have spent months on security and traffic details, and also advertising the expansive coverage.
With security concerns and locations restrictions, planning has often been a “logistical nightmare,” says Steve Paulus, senior VP of news and local programming, Time Warner Cable.
Stations have had to coordinate with, to name just a few, the White House, Capitol, Secret Service and police. Traffic in New York will already be slowed by the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly meeting.
Stations have to be strategic in terms of where they want to be. To get live shots, they have to communicate with the venue, where there are only a certain number of spots, often with a big price tag. “Once you get in you can’t leave,” says Amy Waldman, WPIX New York news director.
For example, because there is a security sweep Thursday morning, to cover the Pope’s evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, Waldman says the Tribune-owned CW affiliate has to be locked into that location early that morning.
Instead of parking overnight, live trucks have to be in place two days ahead of time, adds Paulus.
Naturally, all the traffic and road closures will impact not only stations’ ability to get around but also residents’ driving routes and commutes, giving stations yet another angle to report.
“It’s one of the biggest events to ever come through the city,” says Lew Leone, WNYW New York VP and general manager. “The security preps alone have been nearly unprecedented.”
Occasionally, stations can use that to their advantage. For example, WTXF is situated one block away from where the Pope is speaking Saturday in Philadelphia and within a mile of the Sunday Mass location, says Dennis Bianchi, general manager and VP. “The station is located inside the security zone, giving us an opportunity no other station in Philadelphia can offer,” he says.
Similarly, CBS’ KYW and WPSG studios are located within the security zone of where the Pope is staying in Philadelphia. David Friend, senior VP of news, CBS Television Stations, says arrangements have been made to provide parking for employees who live outside the zone and shuttles to take them in and out.
Meanwhile, stations want to make sure people see the result of all the time and effort they have put into planning and covering the visit. Stations have gone to great — and unique — lengths to promote the coverage and target viewers.
Time Warner Cable, for instance, sent an e-blast to all its customers notifying them of its “Papal Visit Channel.” It also reached out to the Catholic Church which, with its impressive social media capabilities, contacted every parish in the country, according to Paulus.
In the promo for its Sunday lineup of Eagles football and the Pope’s visit, Fox 29 in Philadelphia has been running a promo of a bobblehead of an Eagles player alongside a Pope Francis bobblehead.
“What other station can say they their lead-in to the Pontiff in Philadelphia is our Philadelphia Eagles?” asks Bianchi.