At the end of what had been a relatively busy news weekend for KVVU FOX5/Las Vegas, information about what would turn out to be the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history surfaced during its 10 p.m. newscast on Sunday. Within minutes, the station swung from a routine broadcast into what would become a day and a half of nonstop coverage.
“An assignment editor called me at home at about 10:15 p.m. to let me know about the possible-active-shooter report she was hearing. Quite often these things turn out to be nothing, so I gave instructions to keep listening,” said FOX5 Vegas News Director Cristi Jessee. “Meanwhile, I turned on the Scanner 911 app on my phone so I could listen to the scanner and soon heard about officers in distress and people being shot at that moment.”
Jessee phoned the executive producer on duty, and they both immediately proceeded to call the news team in.
“Some of the anchors and reporters we contacted were already mobilizing and were quickly on their way to the station,” she said.
FOX5 was first on the air with live coverage of the horrific shootings at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival, and the station stayed on with wall-to-wall coverage longer than anyone else — until 10 a.m. Tuesday morning — for a total of 36 hours of nonstop reporting.
“From a news manager’s perspective, you’re working with a lot of people — not just on-air talent but producers, managers, and others — who wanted to come in right away to help,” said Jessee. “But I realized this was the type of situation that would see us on the air for a long time, and I didn’t want the team getting exhausted. So we put people on 12-hour shifts.”
Jessee said she stayed at the station all night on Sunday to oversee the ongoing breaking coverage. She returned home to get an hour and a half of sleep and to send her kids off to school.
“I heard from Patrick McCreery (Meredith’s vice president of news and marketing, Local Media Group) in Portland, who asked what we needed. He let me know that Corey Hanson, the news director for Meredith’s station in Portland, was in Las Vegas on vacation. We enlisted her to fill in for me when I needed to get some rest.”
In addition, FOX5 welcomed the help of Meredith station crews and their newsgathering equipment from Kansas City, Hartford, and Portland. The company also had two additional LiveU packs flown in overnight. Phoenix and Nashville crews flew in to take care of Meredith group needs. In addition, KVVU called in its Magid news consultant Jim LeMay to provide his ongoing insights and suggestions throughout the week.
Jessee said the station made the right call in turning its coverage focus primarily toward the victims, heroes, and first responders as the night of horror gave way to daylight on Monday this week.
“We decided we weren’t going to keep replaying sound of the gunfire. We weren’t going to focus on the gunman other than news as it emerged from press conferences during the day,” Jessee said. “That decision and, I think, sensitivity to what people were going through, was something the Las Vegas community appreciated.”
Demos from Monday’s ongoing coverage show that KVVU’s coverage dominated throughout the day.
“Along with everyone Meredith funneled in to the station following the Las Vegas shootings, this week has been a real testament to the producers, EPs, photographers, reporters, and anchors at KVVU,” said LeMay. “They truly set an impressive blueprint on how to provide meaningful and relevant ongoing news coverage under trying circumstances.”
“To see all of our people doing their jobs so remarkably well after such a horrific thing in our community — to a large degree running on adrenaline — I don’t think most of our news team has truly grasped the full gravity of what happened,” said Jessee. “Some of the realization started to show through in emotional moments during live interviews, but their focus over the first few days after the shootings has been on being professional, showing compassion, and knowing what to do to bring this story to viewers.”
Jessee said FOX5 brought in counselors to talk with anyone who wanted to talk. The station also scheduled a massage therapist to come in to help relieve staffers’ stress at the end of the week.
“Our General Manager Todd Brown and everyone at Meredith have been incredibly supportive throughout this process,” she said. “From additional resources to having food brought in to keep us going, we feel more sustained because of all they’ve done.”
In the process, Jessee said, the station’s news team has been both witness to and supportive of the Las Vegas community coming together in powerful ways.
“From simple, heartwarming reports of what people are doing to help people out to amazing stories of heroes, we’ve focused heavily on honoring the victims, supporting the injured, and shedding whatever positive light we can as we all find ways to recover,” Jessee added.
LeMay said KVVU FOX5 has more than lived up to its “Local. Las Vegas” brand this week.
“They really set the tone with careful and sensitive coverage over the past few days as they transitioned from ‘Mass Shooting’ mode into hashtag ‘#VegasStrong.’ It’s not something that couldn’t be done without planning and commitment across the board, and the station really excelled in those respects,” he said.
Read more from KVVU here.