Nick Matesi: A Disaster Helps Define a Station’s Digital Value

During Waldo Canyon fire, KKTV GM and staff helped keep Colorado Springs informed and safe

B&C's 2012 Digital All-Stars

Nick Matesi was headed to Home
Depot in Monument, Colo., on Saturday,
June 23, when he saw a plume
of smoke rising from the nearby mountains.


As vice president and general manager of a
local television station in
Colorado Springs, Gray’s
KKTV, smoke meant
something different to
Matesi than it did to most
people. He turned his
car around and headed
in to work.

Once he arrived, Matesi
and his entire staff all but
remained in the newsroom
for the next week
as the Waldo Canyon fire
began a burn that would
eventually destroy more
than 18,000 acres and
346 homes. “We kicked in Saturday at 1 p.m.,
and we didn’t stop,” he says. “Every time we
would think about going back to regular programming,
the thing would blow up again.”

While KKTV covered the fire for 130 hours
straight, preempting
all of its scheduled
programming, the station
and its staff also
was going full bore on
its digital platforms to
keep locals informed—
using Facebook and
Twitter, in particular,
to answer questions,
check rumors and deliver
alerts. The station’s
Facebook fans
increased by 87%,
jumping to 47,835
from 25,351, and its
Twitter followers increased 40%, to 10,365
from 7,369.

The staff, led by Phil Tenser, KKTV director
of new media, also kept the station’s main
website updated with text, photos, video and
maps and immediately built out a special section
to track the fire. Page views of the site
jumped from an average of 40,000 per day
to more than 5.5 million, while bringing in
nearly 1.2 million unique visitors.

Through everything, the staff was all
about engagement, with a goal of responding
to each post and tweet within an hour.
“At one point, we were responding and posting
so fast, Facebook’s algorithms started to
assume we were spam, and threatened to kill
our account,” Matesi says.

It was a long stretch of days, but it was
worth it: “This is the kind of coverage that
people need,” Matesi says. “This is what we’re
here for.”