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Caught in the news: On vacation, KOMO’s Daniel Liberator reported from the Boston marathon

The Boston Marathon bombings (screenshot from Boston Globe video footage)

The last things KOMO News editor Daniel Liberator expected to see as he waited for his wife at the Boston Marathon finish line were those now-infamous explosions.

Amid the chaos, Liberator quickly called KOMO. He immediately alerted the staff and gave first-person accounts of what was going on throughout the day, working on his vacation to cover the biggest breaking news story of the year — which, according to KOMO news director Holly Gauntt, “absolutely made our coverage.”

His reaction models necessary qualities for anyone in the news industry: a constant alertness and a quick response, and also a strong sense of sensitivity in the face of a truly catastrophic event.

I spoke with Liberator over the phone recently to discuss the tragedy and his reaction to it.

Q: Could you tell me about the explosion itself, and your immediate reaction?

Liberator: My wife was running the marathon and I was near the finish line. She had already finished and we were getting ready to [leave]… I heard the first bomb go off, which was further away, and then I looked over and I saw the second bomb, and that was much closer to where I was.

Immediately I wondered how my wife was doing, so I called her and fortunately she picked up the phone immediately, so I knew she was okay.

Q: What was going through your mind?

L: The bomb itself was a very loud boom and I felt it in my chest… [Everyone] had a reaction of ‘did that really happen? Is this really what I think it is?’ Everybody had a moment before it registered what the situation was. So I would say that it was just really disorienting, initially.

Q: And while most people were panicking you called KOMO. Could you tell me about how this reporter instinct kicked in?

L: I’ve worked with [KOMO] for a long time, and obviously the first thing I thought about was my wife, but the second thing I thought about was work, and it’s a huge story. It’s probably the biggest story of the decade. I wasn’t necessarily thinking that at the time, but I knew that it was a big deal and I needed to call work and let them know. Anybody else I work with would have done the same thing, I would imagine. It’s just instinct.

Q: And you refused to hang up, even when they insisted on putting you on hold or calling you back, why?

L: Initially I called my wife and it took me a few tries to get it to work because all the cell phones were jammed…so when I finally got through to work, they were going to put me on hold, or they said they were going to call me back, and I told them, ‘No you can’t do this.’ I told them over and over and over, ‘You cannot do this because I don’t know if you’re going to be able to get through to me.’ It was so difficult to get through in the first place.

Q: What was KOMO’s reaction?

L: Initially they were very surprised, they didn’t even know about it. They talked to radio [which is right next door to broadcast] and radio was interested in talking to me.

Q: What exactly were you telling them?

L: I was describing the scene around me. There were tons of emergency vehicles going by, medics, police, SWAT, there was just a mass amount of medical vehicles, and there were police trying to direct people out of the area. It was just a lot of chaos a lot of confusion.

Q: Had you not taken the initiative, what would KOMO have lost?

L: They still would have gotten on the story quickly, it was a very big deal, but they wouldn’t have had a local angle from it, they wouldn’t have had someone actually on the scene from their own organization.

Q: The situation was obviously very traumatic for everyone involved. How did you manage to stay level-headed enough to effectively cover it?

L: I think generally me and people in the news industry are calm, even-keel people, they don’t get up too much and they don’t get down too much. I feel like I’m that way…and I realize that this was a tragedy but fortunately I wasn’t [personally] affected by it. I kept trying to remind myself to stay calm…I went back and listened to myself, and I think I sounded pretty calm, but I can still tell I was a bit worked up.

Q: What do you think reporters can learn from this tragedy?

L: You just never know when something is going to happen, and like I said on the radio the day that it happened about the event itself, I have seen a lot of explosions and terrible things happen on video, I’ve edited a lot of things, I’ve looked at a lot of things, more so than the average person. But you cannot imagine what it’s like until you’re actually involved in it.

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