A Viewer’s Perspective on the Greenpeace Protest Coverage
I watched drama under Portland’s St. John’s bridge unfold yesterday.
At 7 a.m., the CBS Morning News began as usual. But at 7:05, local affiliate KOIN cut in with breaking news about a protest by activists to prevent the Fennica, a ship owned by Shell Oil, from moving northward on the Willamette River. Apparently, as the ship left dry dock around 2 a.m., protestors were already positioning themselves to dangle themselves in front of it. The ship is an icebreaker and has the ability to cap blown out oil wells. The US Government gave Shell permission to drill in the Arctic only if that capability is on site. By blocking its passage and preventing the ship from leaving, activists were preventing the drilling.
The protest was clearly illegal, but it was also quite elegant. Thirteen protestors suspended themselves in hammocks from climber’s ropes beneath the deck of the bridge. They hung low in the shipping traffic route of the Willamette. Their intention was to prevent the high masted Fennica from passing by daring the ship to endanger them in an attempt to pass them. As the Fennica approached, the protestors lowered themselves another 50 feet to make it even more difficult for the ship. And, connecting each protestor was an even lower hanging cable that looped from one to the next to the next. Long and colorful red and yellow streamers waved downwind of many of them. Over the next hour, the Fennica would stop, turn, retreat and advance as authorities tried to figure out what to do.
I soon realized that this was an great chance to see how all of Portland’s TV news teams covered an event with international appeal. So I started switching between all four stations; KGW Channel 8, KPTV Channel 12, KOIN Channel 6 and KATU Channel 2. It was hard to pay attention to all of the nuances of each station’s coverage considering the story was fast developing and had lots of moving parts. But I had some overall impressions.
- CBS affiliate KOIN’s video feed from the river shoreline was intermittently terrible. Perhaps it was because the microwave signal for the camera operator was in a bad location. Or maybe they were using a technology other than microwave. But the picture was frequently pixelated. However, Ken Boddie in studio, Brent Weisberg on the river, and Elishah Oesch at the street level were professional and comprehensive in their reporting despite technical difficulties. KOIN did get some beautiful shore level video of protestors hanging from the bridge.
- NBC affiliate KGW relied heavily on their helicopter, as did KATU and KPTV, although I couldn’t tell if KGW had a reporter in theirs. The footage they shot gave excellent perspectives on kayakers, protestors hanging from the bridge and the moving Fennica thanks to anchor Russ Lewis and reporters Stephanie Stricklen and Rachel Rafanelli.
- ABC affiliate KATU’s Mike Warner was their reporter in the air. His reporting personalized what was happening on the water and made me appreciate that his play by play was just as if not more important than an aerial view with no commentary. I counted four and maybe five KATU staff on this story including reporters Katherine Kisiel, Matt Johnson, and Warner as well as anchors Lincoln Graves and Natalie Marmion.
- KPTV provided the most long lasting coverage. As each network affiliate left Portland’s local coverage at 8 a.m. PST to rejoin network programming, channel 12 stayed and continued to follow events. Anchors Pete Ferryman and Kim Maus, along with reporters Anthony Congi and Debra Gill worked it for at least another hour.
One takeaway for me was the advantage a helicopter provides to a station’s coverage. For example, both channels 8 and 2 seemed to report on a hang glider dangerously manuvering amongst the suspended protestors from their choppers at least a minute before 6 did. But KOIN had some impressive water level shots of the Fennica. And using its long range lens, the ship looked massive and imposing. Plus, KOIN’s Carly Kennelly seemed to be the only one I saw using ODOT traffic views of the St. John’s bridge.
By afternoon, U.S. Coast Guard and Portland Police had cleared a path for the Fennica ending a nearly 40 hour standoff. Portland’s fire and rescue team rappelled off the bridge and managed to remove three of the 13 protestors who hung over the center of the river channel.
Overall, the coverage by all of the locals was outstanding. And this kind of unique protest is what Portland is known for. Although opponents could argue that the protest was illegal, supporters can also argue that it was both ethical and necessary. If there is a positive, it is that worldwide attention was focused on something other than a mass shooting. Here, both sides can claim a degree of victory with no injuries or loss of life.