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Like a Live-Action Cloverfield Trailer

Midtown's Steampipe Explosion Thankfully Not a Marketing Stunt -- and Not a Great Showing by Local News

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The scene from yesterday's steam pipe explosion.
The scene from yesterday's steam pipe explosion. Credit: AP
The steampipe explosion yesterday during rush hour happened a couple of blocks from Ad Age's offices. But despite the proximity, we had a hard time getting any reliable information from the outlets that tout their ability to bring you breaking news.

The scene outside our offices were eerily similar to the a cryptic Cloverfield trailer Jonah Bloom wrote about in his column this week (minus the fiery explosions and flying head of the statue of liberty). But the sound you hear in the trailer -- that bellowing rumble as if from one ticked off Gregorian monk -- was clearly audible from our office, and was even louder once we evacuated and loitered a bit in front of the building until we could figure out a plan of action (read: have a drink to steady nerves and try to get some accurate information).

The cocktails were plenty easy to come by, but news was slow in coming. The bartender grugdingly turned from ESPN to the local channels, but even 15 minutes after the explosion there was little to find on TV. Most of what we knew came from those on the street -- "It's a transformer explosion" was the most common explanation we initially heard from passers-by who were able to get reception on their cellphones, promptng at least three rounds of Optimus Prime jokes.

Coverage, when it finally came on, was sketchy at best -- understandable if the breaking news was actually breaking minutes after the explosion. But this was a now a good 20 minutes later, 20 minutes of people running away from the blast's epicenter, of people looking up and pointing at the Chrysler Building, 20 minutes after police and emergency crews started closing off street. You'd think by now there would've have been one of those cool "We interrupt this show to bring you breaking news" type of announcements. NBC, when it finally had some type of audio from the scene, referred to it in it's quickly fashioned banner as "Explosion on the East Side," which though geographically accurate is like saying an explosion at the Empire State Building is taking place at 34th Street. the blast happened right outside Grand Central Terminal! And NY1, the supposed local news leader, after finally getting up an image that clearly showed the blast to have been caused by something subterranean and not ballistic in nature, cut away from the footage to bring you your Weather on the One's (news flash: it's hot in July in New York!).

But at least we were finally hearing something, because until that point, the scariest part of the Midtown mayhem wasn't the growling, echoing belching from the city's bowels but the lack of any information.

Maybe the problem was the explosion occured during the start of most networks' local evening news, and all that prepackaged news from earlier in the day was just too good to keep off the air. And maybe all the citizen journalists out there with their camera phones snapping pictures to upload to their blogs forgot to call into the local news stations -- how else are station managers to know to divert traffic chopters to cover something beyond rubbernecking on the FDR Drive. News this morning, while filled with superlative tabloid headlines, photos, blogs and witness statements (why interview people when you can have them e-mail! Yay Web 2.0!), was not much improved until most people were already well on their way to work. The MTA's website seemed to be the last to update its service alert that subways were stopping at Grand Central. And while NY1's website had a couple of complete stories, it's on-air report by Gary Anthony Ramsey seemed to indicate the area between 42nd Street to 57th Street was a frozen zone, closed to all traffic, including pedestrians, except for those living in the area.

But since I'm here at work, I can safely say that's not the case.

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UPDATE: Some agencies are closed today.

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