For the second time in eight months, the Orlando market is home to a giant, emotionally charged, and tragic news story involving the death of a child.
The Orlando stations happened to be covering a civil trial involving Casey Anthony Friday, March 23, but are much more focused on the mounting national interest in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Martin, who was 17, was killed in Sanford, north of Orlando, Feb. 26 by a community watch leader named George Zimmerman. Martin was unarmed. The story has picked up steam every day since. "This market is one major story after another major story," says Steve Hyvonen, news director at WKMG. "We end up leading the national news several times a year."
The WKMG newsroom sensed early on it would turn out to be a persistent, multi-layered story when the local police, whom Hyvonen says are usually forthcoming with information, initially refrained from sharing 911 phone tapes from the incident, and discussing suspects. (The police did share the tapes, he said, a few days ago after mounting pressure.)
Orlando stations, which include WESH, WFTV and WOFL, have been cutting in to regular programming when there are developments, such as the police chief Bill Lee temporarily stepping down, and activist Al Sharpton addressing protesters. Bright House's cable net News 13 is on the story round the clock too
Network news talent is flocking to central Florida as well.
The news outlets are digging for fresh angles. News 13 wondered where George Zimmerman is these days. "As thousands in Central Florida and many more around the world call for his arrest, George Zimmerman has not been seen or heard from since the controversy erupted over his shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin," it reported.
WOFL said the New Black Panther Party was pushing hard for his arrest. "Not only did members of the panther party demand that George Zimmerman be arrested...," said MyFoxOrlando.com, "they also said if the police won't find him, they will."
Although the story is very different in nature from the Casey Anthony saga, it has struck a similar emotional chord among Orlando viewers. "Something that everyone can agree on is that it's a horrible tragedy that shouldn't have happened," Hyvonen says.
Regardless, he keeps reminding WKMG reporters to stay objective and fair, and keep their emotions out of their work.
The story continues to grow, with President Obama speaking on the topic on an intensely personal level, saying, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."
"It's only going to get bigger," says Hyvonen. "If there's a trial, it might be bigger than Casey Anthony."