Former The Union colleague shares his take on covering the Boston bombings
April 30, 2013
When tragedy strikes — even more than 3,000 miles away — our thoughts, and hearts, turn to those immediately impacted or those who might have been in harm's way.
For many of us here at The Union, one of those people was Zuri Berry, a former colleague who now works at the Boston Globe. But considering his penchant for social media, it didn't take long to confirm that Zuri was safe and sound — and on the job — covering both the Boston Marathon and the explosions that left three dead and more than 160 injured.
"It's one of those events that you go all out for, the Boston Marathon, with full staff," he said Monday night, after finally returning home from a long day on the job. "Even here in Boston, they'd pretty much cut away from TV coverage of the race because all of the elite races were done … and then all the sudden, we were in breaking news mode."
At around 2:50 p.m., Berry said he and his fellow staffers started to hear word of a possible explosion, but they wondered whether it might just be a car that had backfired.
"Then I got the first viral photo, the one from above with blood everywhere … that was our confirmation, I guess," he said. "We started taking peoples' (Twitter) tweets and posting them on what was going on."
That proved to be a positive in terms the Globe's ability to disseminate the news, Berry said, as many of the staff reporters on scene were on lockdown at the Copley Place Hotel downtown in the aftermath of the explosion.
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"They didn't get out of there until like 8 p.m.," he said. "So we were scrambling for reporters out there. Thankfully organizations like the Globe can throw a lot of resources at it.
"What's going through my head is that I've got to keep looking for solid information … moving onto things like how many are injured and how many have been killed? Being in the office and not being in the field was very difficult because you're not knowing where sources are coming from. You wade through all the bad info to get good information. At the beginning, that was looking through Twitter and social media, but then you have to cut it off with social media because so much of it becomes an echo of what was reported earlier."
And some of the speculative reports, later echoed by actual media agencies, turned out to be wrong. Reports of an explosion at the John F. Kennedy Library reported to potentially be linked to the explosions downtown turned out to be false.
"Information is just coming so fast," Berry said. "Boston Police Chief Fred Davis, at the initial press conference, said that was possibly related — which then gets everyone thinking that this isn't just contained to one place but possibly a coordinated thing across a wider area.
"But then they walked that back, that it was a fire and not related. And they did that via Twitter."
The rush of information also resulted in an error by a major cable TV news station in mistakenly crediting Berry for perhaps the most widely broadcast video of the finish-line explosion, which was repeated over and over again on looped footage of TV reports. Berry said he posted the video at Boston.com, but it was actually his colleague, Steve Silva, who shot it.
"People started messaging me, saying they'd seen my video on Fox News," he said. "I'd gotten three phone calls and six emails from producers of all of their shows, and somehow they posted my name to his video and gave me credit on the air that the video was mine. … And I'm trying to get the word out that it was my colleague's!
"Next thing I know, I'm taking all these calls for him from FOX, CBS, NBC … all wanting to talk with him, almost like I'm working as his press secretary all day, fielding all the phone calls."
One phone call he was happy to take was that of his fiancé (they're planning a Cancun wedding for June), who works across town.
"She actually didn't know about it until late," he said. "At that point, the roads were shutting down and it was getting hard to travel, so she just went home."
As Monday night turned into early Tuesday morning, Berry said he's never had an assignment such as the one he had land in his lap just hours earlier.
"I was supposed to be covering the (New England) Patriots' pre-draft press conference (Tuesday), but they've canceled that now," he said. "It looks like whatever we're going to need on the aftermath of the Boston Marathon … hopefully getting a better idea of everything, to how many people were killed, how many were injured … who they are, who they were.
"It's kind of wait and see, right now."
Contact Managing Editor Brian Hamilton via email at email@example.com or by phone at 477-4249.