NE Studios recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dave Wedge to discuss his upcoming book (written with true-crime author, Casey Sherman) and movie, “Boston Strong: A City’s Triumph Over Tragedy.”
We talked to him about the events that shaped both his personal and professional life and ultimately his journey from reporter to author. (Watch the video interview)
Q: First things, first: Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
A: Dave Wedge, and I do a lot of things. (he chuckles) I’m an author, I’m a journalist and I’m a political consultant.
Q: You’ve written about some of the biggest tragedies to impact this country in the last 2 decades. Did you always have a plan to write a book?
A: It’s funny because I always wanted to do a book and I had some other opportunities to do books with other cases and stories that I worked on over the years, but nothing really grabbed me, nothing really ignited that passion in me where I said I’m gonna take a year or two out of my life and dedicate it to this.
Q: Tell us about the beginning of your career. You started off in the newspaper business before the Internet and cell phones were protocol. What was that like?
A: I started in 1993 at some smaller papers then moved up to the (Boston) Herald in ’99. You know, it was pre-internet, pre-cell phone. We didn’t have any internet in the newsroom so when I first started at the Herald we would have to go to town halls and dig up clips and microfilm and all that old-timey stuff (laughs).
But I think it ultimately made me a better journalist because I learned the value of getting out and getting the story.
I was covering breaking news, so a lot of times we would get the story from a tip from the telephone or we would hear it on the police scanner. That was a vital piece of news business back then. The guys who sat on the scanners could sift through all that noise coming through and they would hear, “that’s something we need to go to.” Those guys were great, and those were usually the photographers. We would follow their lead and go out and get the story and interview people on the street. If it ended up being a big story, you would try to find out everything you could. A lot of the ways you would find out things about that person’s life, and the people that were involved in that story, would be to go to the town hall, go to the library, dig through public records, birth certificates, death certificates, real estate records, divorce records, court papers, all that stuff. A lot of court papers are online now, but a lot of them still aren’t. The district court files are not online so there’s an art to it that, I feel, is kind of lost. That’s where I got some of my best stories over the years was digging through records and public buildings.”
Q: Tell us about your first Big Story.
A: The first big story I covered – national story – was the Worcester cold storage fire. I had only been at the Herald for a couple of weeks. I will never forget going out and just doing some shoe leather reporting, trying to interview firefighters; stopping by fire houses trying to find out who was involved in this and trying to find some stories from guys who worked on the fire. I ended up meeting up with some friends of the guys who were killed and got some great stuff from them. But at the end of my day of reporting when I had to file it, I had to go to an actual payphone and call it back into the Herald.
You know, I’ll never forget, I called what we called re-write guys back then. Those guys would sit on the desk when a big story like that happened and they would just take feeds over the phone from all the reporters that were out in the field ‘cause we didn’t have internet and we didn’t have cell phones. I called this guy, Paul Sullivan. I was really stressed out and confused ‘cause it was all new to me and this big huge national story. And I started rambling, and he said, “Kid take a deep breath, where are ya?” And I said, “I’m at a restaurant.” He said, “Sit down at the bar, have a beer, get your thoughts together, write it all out and call me back.” And it really stuck with me throughout my reporting career to kind of take a breath, kind of absorb everything that happened and think about it and then start to write. So that’s what I did that day and it served me well through my career.
Q: You covered 9/11 for the Boston Herald. Can you take us through your experience in Manhattan after the attack?
A: 9/11 was a big life changer for me as a reporter and as a person. I mean, I got sent down there immediately after the first plane hit. My boss called and said, “Turn on the TV.” I looked and I saw that one plane had hit. He said, “Get to New York.” I was like, “Why? It’s a plane crash in New York,” and he said, “Well, we think the plane left from Logan.” And as soon as he said that, on live TV, the second plane hit. And then we knew. He was like, “Get going.” So I got in my car and I drove down. I got into the Bronx and parked my car like up around 200th Street and just grabbed my notebook, the clothes on my back and walked. And I walked like 50-60 blocks, took the train for 50-60 blocks then walked the rest and got into lower Manhattan shortly after the buildings came down. And when I got there it was like what you saw on TV: It was people walking around covered in that ash.
I stayed down there for two weeks and it obviously impacted me personally. I covered a lot of the law enforcement first responder angle, I got really close to some hero firefighters and hero police officers and made some great friends. One of the guys that was in the first precinct, he was on patrol that day, when the planes hit. He took me into Ground Zero a bunch of times so I was in there when President Bush made that famous speech. I became really good friends with the guy and he’s a good friend of mine to this day.
Q: 9/11 impacted everyone, no matter where they when the tragedy happened. How did this experience shape your career?
A: Well I think about my career a lot, and I think about that stuff. When I was at the smaller papers, I always wanted to be at a big, metropolitan daily and cover national stories, and you know the Worcester Cold Storage story was obviously tragic but I was proud to have been a part of it. And when 9/11 happened I had a source of pride that I was able to tell those stories for the people of Boston, from New York.
When you’re a journalist you want a big story, but when 9/11 happened it was too big. And you didn’t want it anymore. It was apocalyptic down there frankly. It was a war zone. I wasn’t prepared for it, I didn’t know what I was walking into and it changed me forever.
I got pretty burned out to be honest with you. So by like, 2004 I moved over to the political team and covered the political conventions, the 2004 Republican National Political Convention, and that was a nice change for me. From there I covered mostly politics for the rest of my career at the Herald, but whenever there was a big huge story I would jump in. Then when the Marathon Bombings happened, I was the City Hall reporter and I ended up being thrown right into the middle of all of that.
Q: Tell us about your experience with the Boston Marathon Bombings in 2013.
A: I look at St. Patty’s day and the marathon as the start of spring. It’s a right of passage for Bostonians. It’s such an iconic day for Boston. There are runners from over 100 countries, 30,000 runners, college kids everywhere, it’s just a really happy day, it’s Patriot’s day.
I was headed to City Hall to do some stuff when a firefighter friend of mine called and said there were two explosions at the finish line and I was like, “You know, probably man hole covers or something.” We just had a sub station explosion right before it so I thought it was maybe something like that, a transformer blew up or something. And then the desk called and was like, “Yeah there were two explosions at the finish line. Why don’t you head over there?”
It’s funny I mentioned the police officer down at 9/11 that became a good friend of mine. Almost immediately after the bombings happened, he texted me and said “Are you alright?” You know, ‘cause he had been in that situation. And he was like “Be careful” and that sort of stuff. And a couple hours later he texted me and said, “Take good notes. You’re going to do a book about this.” It never crossed my mind until that moment so I obviously – he was the reason why I did this – I did exactly what he said. I took, probably, the best notes I’ve ever taken in my entire life. Everything that happened at those press conferences, every interview I did. I took impeccable notes preserved them all and taped them. And that became a foundation for the book.
So I drove over to the finish line, just parked and ran into the scene and just started interviewing witnesses. There was a lot of confusion. I talked to a lot of people who were runners or families of runners who were looking for their loved ones and didn’t know where they were. There was a real air of uncertainty. They didn’t know what was going on, they knew something bad happened, but no one was really sure what to make of it. Then you know there was the whole other thing, were there more bombs?
I talked to my contacts in the Police Department, just to kind of get information about what was going on and all the information I got, I fed back to the desk. I got sent over to the first press conference, which was at the Westin Copley, and it was heavily guarded; officers with machine guns, there were dogs everywhere, bomb sniffing dogs and that sort of stuff. That’s where all of the dignitaries and the law enforcement leaders were – Governor Patrick, Ed Davis, Carmen Oritz from the US Attorney’s office. There were some military folks there. Gov. Patrick came out and basically said, “We’ve been attacked” and told us what little information they had at the time. They had a good handle on things right from the beginning. They knew they were dealing with a terror attack and they immediately appealed to the public for help. They quelled the panic, but they took steps to protect the public.
Q: We all know this didn’t end on Monday. The manhunt continued until the early hours of Friday of that week. Can you tell us your experience in Watertown, MA on April 18 and 19?
A: I covered the developments, press conferences and all that for the next four days and then – we had a baby at home, a two-week-old baby- so on Thursday, I finally finished my day at like 10:00 that night. I went home and was like, ‘Ok I can relax.’ It just seemed like there was a lull and they (police) didn’t really know where these guys were.
I literally got home and sat on the couch, took my baby in my arms and started falling asleep with him watching the news. And it came on that Sean Collier was shot and killed in Cambridge. I literally took the baby and gave the baby back to my wife and said, “Ok I’ve got to go.” And she was like, “What are you talking about?” And I said, “It’s gotta be connected.”
Immediately, the desk called me – the news desk – and was like, “Can you get out there?” So I started heading out there and as I was heading to MIT, the Watertown thing started happening. My boss just said, “The corner of Dexter and Laurel Street in Watertown something’s going on there, there’s bombs, there’s shootings, just get there.”
When I got there the gunfire and bombs had just stopped. There was still smoke in the air and people running around. They were putting up police tape; there was a lot of chaos.
There’s a lot of bars in that area so there were a lot of young, drunk college kids coming home from the bars, walking around those streets, and they were getting arrested by the police, because the cops didn’t know who was who. It was dark out. They were looking for two young men who just shot at cops and threw bombs at police officers so everyone was a suspect. I ended up just staying through the night, and through the next night until they caught the kid.
Q: What was that like?
A: “It brought me right back to 9/11 when I got off that train and was walking through Manhattan, I had that same feeling downtown, you know, with the metal barricades everywhere and cops and uncertainty. It’s just – it’s an uncomfortable feeling. It’s something you don’t like. You know, I guess I may sound old, but I’m a seasoned journalist now so I do know how to deal with that stuff. I wish I didn’t, you know, to be honest with you. I wish I didn’t have to cover that story. I wish it didn’t happen. But when things like that happen, as a journalist, you have a responsibility. You have the skills to be able to find out what happened, you have the contacts to be able to get the truth and I feel like that’s my responsibility in my career. That’s how I approach it where, you know, it’s gonna be an incident of historical significance, and I want to make sure I get it right.”
Q: You wrote “Boston Strong” with true-crime author Casey Sherman. How did that connection happen?
A: Casey is a former channel 4 producer that I’ve known for years. He had done 5 or 6 books prior to this and they were all great, all true crime. He wrote “The Finest Hours” which is now being made into a Disney movie.
WEI was talking about the Marathon … Dennis and Callahan went on the air and said “You know, someone’s gonna do a book about this.” And John Dennis said, “It’s gotta be Casey Sherman, Casey Sherman should be the guy to do this.” And I just happened to be listening and I just sent him a message. I said “Hey if you’re thinking about doing a book about this, I’d love to do it with you.” And he immediately called me right away and we got started. Within a matter of days – you know Casey already had agents all the contacts – we had a book deal and it was ready to go.
Q: I understand that they are going to make a movie, too?
A: 20th Century Fox owns the rights to our book and they’ve got a producer on board and a director and they’re coming out to Boston, doing their due diligence, meeting with the characters that we have in our book and they’ve already got a script. It’s the folks who wrote The Fighter and The Finest Hours so it’s an A-List team, couldn’t be prouder. And the studio folks love our book and the writers love our book. They think we’ve really gotten to the heart of the story and that we have some real incredible stories of heroism and inspiration and that’s really what it’s about for me. It was a tragedy but there are so many stories of inspiration and heroism that came out of the marathon. And those are the stories we are trying to tell while honoring the folks that lost their lives. Our hope is that the movie will do that same justice.
My real hope with this Boston Strong project is that, it can tell the story accurately, historically, but also hopefully shed some light on some of the amazing things that happened that maybe people don’t know about. And really, honor those that lost their lives and honor those who were severely injured and impacted by this. That’s my hope really. I feel like I was born to tell stories and I hope that I do a good job at it and that people enjoy them.
Special thanks to Guy Holt of NE Studios Grip & Lighting for the gorgeous lighting.