As the manhunt closed in on the Boston bombing suspects, WPIX was caught in the crosshairs of some riveting television.
Channel 11 took viewers directly into Watertown’s lockdown Friday. Reporter James Ford and his videographer Kenton Young spent nearly 24 hours on the air during the station’s non-stop coverage. Ford says he did not require special access to the “frozen zone” as S.W.A.T. teams and police converged.
“We got lucky,” Ford tells Tuned In. “Our assignment editor Jeff Crianza woke me early—early is relative. I set my alarm for 1:15 and suddenly 12:30, what I thought was my alarm going off, it was Jeff saying we’ve got to go.”
Colleague Jay Dow had 37 hours without sleep, working the night newscasts Thursday before following Ford into Watertown for the broadcast at 4 a.m.
“When we drove into Watertown, it was like the wild, wild West,” Dow says. “Because police were trying to figure out the situation as we were trying to figure out what was happening… They just didn’t know whether the area that we were in was a place we were going to be in some kind of danger. There were pretty tense moments because it was such a fluid situation.”
A gun battle during the overnight hours led to one of the two suspects being killed by police. At 2 a.m. Ford and his cameraman arrived at their still quiet Watertown location as police tightened the dragnet.
Ford says the police presence jumped exponentially after 5:45 a.m. That’s when a resident in an apartment building across the street from where Ford and Young were stationed told police that she saw blood on an exterior staircase.
Being so early in the eventual frozen zone, PIX gave viewers unprecedented video as police zeroed-in on a house where the suspect was believed cornered. We watched as police went door to door carefully removing residents. Although they could keep their position just a few houses away from the hot spot, police did force Channel 11 to drop the camera to the ground, so the suspect would not gain any advantage.
Beyond being pushed back a block as tension grew during the morning, Ford didn’t expect the police to remove them completely from the scene.
“The cops were understanding that we had a job to do,” Ford says.
Despite guns drawn in close proximity to Ford Friday, he wasn’t worried about his safety.
“I never thought about it,” Ford says. “My job really is to just report what I observe.”
At one point, the tense situation was made abundantly clear as National Guard troops told Ford and Young that they needed to take cover and if gunfire was heard, to get down.
For seven hours, Ford was outside of the frozen zone, as the batteries on his cell phones drained. He walked into the barricaded area to charge the phones and provide additional undeterred live reports.
Even with cameras pointed to the curb, Ford was involved in something unique. However, it took a visit to a 7/11 a few blocks away that afternoon to clarify WPIX’s place with this story. There, Ford witnessed a yellow crime scene tape.
“Behind that line were like a dozen camera crews,” Ford says. “I had no idea that there were all these other crews that far away.”
But as tragic and tense as Watertown was, both reporters agree that covering 9/11 was the hardest story to report on so many levels.
“The residents of Boston and the greater Boston area were not accustomed to this kind of situation where their entire city was in danger and at risk,” Dow says.
Dow, whose sister and brother-in-law have lived in Boston for 10 years, says he provided the perfect complement to Ford’s reporting.
“It was my job being in the middle of all the state police and National Guard action to offer analysis and perspective,” Dow says.
Then the social media world did the rest.
Many tweeted about PIX’s incomparable coverage and told people to check out the station’s streaming video.
“The White House ended up watching our coverage,” Ford says. “We were able to give the big macro and micro view of what was going on.”