UPDATED: The hunt for Christopher Dorner, the former LAPD officer
wanted in the killing of a police officer and two civilians, is an intense one
for the LAPD -- and for the LA TV stations, too. Add another giant story of
particular interest in the market, Pope Benedict giving his two weeks' notice,
and it's been a wild few days in the newsrooms in DMA No. 2.
"It's the first time in days that Dorner was not the
lead story [Monday] morning," says Scott Diener, VP and news director at
KCBS-KCAL. "It's one of those big story days."
Diener said the lead for the 5 p.m. news Monday was
undecided until close to kickoff; it ended up being Dorner.
Indeed, the LA manhunt has gripped the nation, and nowhere
more so than Los Angeles. For Patrick Healy, KNBC general assignment reporter who's been covering LA for four decades, interest in the market centered around the Dorner case surpasses even that of Rodney King in 1992 and the so-called "Night Stalker" serial killer who terrorized Los Angeles in 1985. "The way this whole episode has burrowed into the city's psyche, I've never seen," he says. "It's taken over the whole city's consciousness. It's never far from anybody's thoughts."
Like all lasting news stories, it features several
tentacles, including a former cop allegedly killing a fellow cop, a million
dollar reward, the hundreds of tips spawned by the reward, a manhunt covering
all ends of the region, a racial component and the news that the LAPD is
reopening its investigation of Dorner's firing from the force in 2007.
Add in a social media aspect -- Dorner's rambling
"manifesto" on Facebook -- and it's a full blown media sensation.
"There are so many different aspects of this story," says Kingsley
Smith, VP and news director at KTTV. "People are working very specific
parts of it."
As of the morning of Feb. 12, there were reports that Dorner
had fled to Mexico, and that there may be video of him in Manhattan Beach. By around 2 p.m. local time, the stations broke in with reports of a shootout in Big Bear that was believed to involve Dorner and the police, with at least one officer wounded.
"Nobody really knows if he's still alive," says Healy, "or if he's dead in the snow, and they'll find him in the spring."
News outlets are careful to balance the various images of
Dorner playing out in the media: one of a murderer and one of a wronged law
enforcement professional. "You don't want to come across as glorifying a
cop killer, but with the LAPD's history, you've got to be able to examine the
process," says Smith.
KCBS scored an exclusive sit-down with Charlie Beck, LAPD
chief of police, on Feb. 9 when he announced that the LAPD was reopening
Dorner's case file. Beck's interviewer, Pat Harvey, was cited in the Dorner
manifesto ("You are the epitome of a journalist/anchor," Dorner
wrote). For his part, Beck said he chose to speak with Harvey, an
African-American anchor, to better connect with the African-American community
in Los Angeles. Dorner claimed the LAPD unfairly targeted that segment of the
"We used a good portion of our 5 p.m. news on
that," Diener says.
Both KTTV and KCBS are drawing on unique internal assets to
cover the legal side of the case. KCBS has been tapping John Miller, former New
York City deputy police commissioner and now a senior correspondent at CBS
News, for his expertise in the legal side of law enforcement. Robin Sax, KTTV
legal analyst, is serving a similar function at the Fox station.
The reporters have been logging serious gas mileage in
chasing Dorner-related press conferences and tips. KNBC scrapped its sweeps
pieces and replaced promos with an image of Dorner, reports Magid Morning
The news out of the Vatican sent the reporters scrambling
that much more. Smith says there are 5 million practicing Catholics in the Los
Angeles region, tops in the U.S.
"It's a big story for a big part of our audience,"
he says. "These are two big, big stories for people in our market."