As I was getting ready to leave my apartment on 88th Street and First Avenue in Manhattan this morning, I heard the helicopter circling above. I didn't think much of it until I turned on the news and saw that a crane had collapsed three blocks away.
I grabbed the small digital video camera that I had used when I was an off-air reporter covering a presidential campaign and dashed off to the scene. I thought I'd be able to get some of the first on-the-ground video of the aftermath, but in this era of citizen journalism, I was already way behind. There were already dozens of journalists—mostly the kind who don't receive paychecks for their work—wielding home movie cameras, tape recorders and cell phones. Being first on the scene of breaking news seems almost impossible now, unless, of course you are the news.
One local resident handed me a videotape he had shot from his nearby window less than five minutes after the collapse. Even though the tape was filled with home video of a family vacation, he was willing to give it up to a stranger in the hopes that CBS News might use the few moments of video he shot. In the YouTube era, it seems that almost everyone wants to help document our times.
Another man at the scene, who stood by helplessly as the crane went down in front of his eyes, gave me a disposable camera and told me I could develop the film. He said he had taken pictures three or four days ago of building inspectors who had visited the site of the crane. The man claimed that the inspectors had expressed concern to him that the site was unsafe.
There was a palpable sense of anger as neighbors gathered outside together and looked on in disbelief at the rubble in front of them.
"Outraged" was the word that many people echoed—how could another deadly crane collapse have been allowed to happen? After all, it was less than three months ago that seven people were killed when a crane broke away from an apartment tower under construction and crashed onto 51st Street.
Almost everyone I talked to said they had been concerned in the days leading up to the collapse that the crane looked unsafe. One woman told me that her mother warned her not to walk on the side of the street where the crane towered above.
"This didn't used to happen," Manhattan resident Jaclyn Taeschler said. "They put buildings up in New York all the time."
But it did happen. And now New Yorkers want answers.