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Thursday, March 1, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Analysis: KIRO-TV's coverage was first, best

Seattle Times TV reporters

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The Juan de Fuca plate took a dive yesterday morning. And so did a lot of the journalists waiting to cover Mayor Paul Schell's post-Mardi Gras press conference when the 6.8 temblor struck.

Not Brian Wood. While the room shook and pundits and politicians sought cover, KIRO-TV's veteran newscaster turned the color of arctic winter, muttered a few choice words off camera - and began a stand-up report.

"This is Brian Wood live in downtown Seattle, live on the 12th floor of the mayor's conference room," he said, as KIRO photographer Scott Crueger kept the camera steady. "We were waiting for a news conference when it hit: an earthquake."

By rough estimate, Wood started his stand-up 20 seconds into the quake. It's that kind of crazy news instinct that rivets viewers, wins awards and gets you raises - if you aren't killed in the process.

"If I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die," Wood said later when asked what the heck he was thinking. "But let's get it on TV."

The report made KIRO first with news of the quake, and Wood was replayed nationwide.

The station had other memorable images, like techies trampling each other as the chandeliers shook and Bill Gates exited from a Westin Hotel ballroom. It had the first live reports from the University of Washington's seismology lab and Olympia.

How good was KIRO? Halfway through the afternoon, ABC headquarters in New York sheepishly asked if it could carry coverage from KIRO - a CBS affiliate - instead of ABC affiliate KOMO-TV. But you could see why. KOMO spent far too much time in the studio, waiting for anchor Kathi Goertzen to change outfits, instead of out on the streets. It's an earthquake, people. Save the insurance advice for the 5 o'clock news hour and get your own tape instead of begging citizens to send home videos.

KING-TV gave KIRO the strongest competition. KING crews fanned out to Harborview Medical Center, Pioneer Square and the Icon Grill on Fifth Avenue, reaping a video bounty of fallen brick and battered vehicles.

And leave it to statesmanlike anchor Jean Enersen to start the calming spin early: "Considering this is the biggest earthquake to hit the Seattle area in 50 years, we are relatively lucky." Well, that's better than the KING reporter who suggested people might prefer to sleep in tents in their back yards tonight.

If KOMO seemed unable to leave its living room, then KCPQ-TV was caught in bed. The "Mornings on Q" hosts, looking haggard and confused at the turn of events, covered the quake from the desk. Eyewitness accounts were phoned or e-mailed in, suggesting Seattle's big breaking story was just another feature sandwiched between a Nasdaq update and an in-studio performance by Death Cab for Cutie.

Kay McFadden can be reached at kmcfadden@seattletimes.com; Melanie McFarland can be reached at mmcfarland@seattletimes.com.

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