Q&A With WHDH’s Melissa Turtinen

This photo, taken about two miles from the finish line Monday, was taken hours before the bombings. Photo by Melissa Turtinen.

This photo, taken about two miles from the finish line Monday, was taken hours before the bombings. Photo by Melissa Turtinen.

Melissa Turtinen, a 2009 UMass journalism graduate and now a Web Producer with WHDH-TV took time to share some thoughts about what it was like to be in Boston the day of the Boston Marathon bombings:

1.  Where were you when the bombings occurred?

I had taken the day off of work. Marathon Monday is one of my favorite days of the year. I had spent the morning watching the runners. When the bombings happened, I was sitting at a Brookline restaurant about two miles away from the finish line. I was about to order when I got a text from my co-worker asking if I was at the finish line. I assumed she wanted photos for our slideshow. I was wrong. She was making sure I was alive.

2.  What were your first reactions?  Were you working?
I assumed it was an electrical explosion. It didn’t even occur to me it could be something worse. When I asked my co-worker if she needed help. Her response was “I don’t know, I think so.” I got up from the table and got on the T. As text messages poured in it started to hit me. People were dying. The T stopped its service just down the road and I got off the T and ran, walked, jogged the three miles to work. During that time I had awhile to think, look at my surroundings, and take in what was happening. I was walking on a street that runs parallel to Boylston Street, where the bombing happened. I could smell it. Some people around me were also crying, others looked frantic and some people didn’t seem to know anything had happened.
When I got to work I put my emotions to the side. I pretended it wasn’t really happening. It’s the only way I could have gotten through the day.
I blogged about it last night when I got home… it’s a more detailed account of my reaction.

3.  How have you viewed the coverage?  Have you used social media?
Being one of the managers of 7News’ social media accounts, it was one of the main ways we provided information to our viewers. Our coverage started with trying to provide the most accurate and pertinent information first — links to Google people finder, information for how people could contact their loved ones, while we tried to confirm what happened so we could get the word out. A lot of our coverage started with video of the scene, because we had cameras at the finish line, including first-hand accounts from our reporters who cover — or run — the marathon every year.
It was definitely difficult to determine what photos and video were okay to post on our website. How do you determine what is too graphic while trying to convey what happened to those who weren’t there? It’s a thin line. What’s okay? I don’t think I’ll ever know the right answer to that question. Even the day after I was still struggling with what was acceptable to show viewers.
4.  What are your thoughts today?
Today was harder. It became a reality. It was harder to keep my emotions in check, but I knew I had to. Every new story of a victim, of someone reaching out to help someone, affected me. On the bus into work I found myself tearing up while scrolling through Twitter. When I walked to work there were numerous armed officials stationed a couple meters apart holding huge guns. I’ve never seen a gun that big in real life. I was nervous, sad, and finally starting to comprehend what was happening.
There were highs and lows throughout the day as victims were identified and officials released more information on their investigations. I was stressed at points because we were so busy in the newsroom. I was sad, angry, frustrated, exhausted and most of all emotional, but I think I was able to hold it together well enough to get my job done.
We stayed on the air from 4:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. When we do this during snowstorms viewers send angry emails, tweets and Facebook posts. Today we didn’t get that, even when there was a lull in new information. It showed how affected this city, the state, the nation, was by what happened on Monday.

About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing amherstwire.com, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at washingtonpost.com. He also edits part-time for espn.com with the NFL and college football network.
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