When News Breaks, Bring the Smart Phone (and Forget the Spandex)

A few days a week, I commute to work by bicycle from Lexington, Mass. Last Thursday, I noticed a traffic backup at an unusual spot on Waverly Avenue in Watertown. When I finally lifted my gaze from the tailpipes, I found myself in a scene right out of “CSI”: FBI agents everywhere, a helicopter overhead, and yellow crime tape around a small white house.

This was definitely extraordinary for this quiet, unassuming neighborhood. I parked my bike and asked a bystander what was happening. The man said FBI agents broke into the house across the street and arrested someone.

“I was sitting in my living room. And I hear, ‘FBI. Don’t move,’” the bystander explained. “And then I look outside and there’s 20 agents with machine guns surrounding the house.”

The man said his name was Vinnie, and he thought the FBI arrested a terrorist connected with the failed New York City Times Square bombing.

I had stumbled into a real news story. A story that dominated national news last Thursday. And I was wearing Spandex biking clothes.

Looking around, I could see that my Boston Globe colleagues weren’t on the scene yet. My first instinct was to snap a photo of the scene with my iPhone and e-mail it to our continuous news desk and the Web homepage editors — “The Pod,” as they’re collectively known around the newsroom. I got an address for the house and relayed this info, too. I asked a police officer for the street name for good measure, but I could have also used my iPhone, too.

Then I turned my attention back to the bystander. TV crews were beginning to arrive. Seeing the attractive TV reporters made me feel silly standing there in Spandex, so I removed my helmet. I spoke to Vinnie, who would later identify himself as Vincent Lacerra. He said his wife, Barbara, had videotaped the entire arrest. He balked when I asked him for it, but knowing about it was a good start. The tape might have a picture of the man who was arrested.

Spacer Spacer

Soon, a reporter, Milton Valencia, arrived from our metro desk. My job was to relay the information I had to him, and get our staff into the story as fast as possible. I handed Valencia the information, and asked him to get some details about the wife and her video. He patiently waited through the TV scrum peppering Vincent with questions. (I recorded the interview with my iPhone.) Afterward, Valencia relayed the wife’s work phone number to me, and I sent that information to our photo desk and our video team.

Later, video journalist Scott Lapierre would meet the wife and get a copy of the video. We would post the video raw and insert a section into our Globe Today news show.

Overall, four key things come to mind about this experience:

  • The importance of a smart phone to today’s spot news reporters can’t be over-emphasized. It’s a simple thing to always have with you, and it’s incredibly powerful. Shoot photos. Shoot video. E-mail it all. And there are apps on the market to make this even more seamless. Qik.com even enables live video broadcasting.
  • Know your newsroom contacts. Have the numbers and e-mail addresses of the continuous news team.
  • Act as an info relay. The next step from above: There are others who can help. Have phone numbers of the news desk, photo desk and key online people, and act as a team by getting them information, phone numbers, etc.
  • If possible, don’t wear spandex — unless you’ve got a good pocket for your smart phone.

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