Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Breaking news without video, and still drawing hits

I returned from vacation to one of those two-week periods where the news broke at such a hectic pace that the days ran together, prompting calls from the copy desk late on a Monday night asking “Ron, did you really mean to say Friday, or did you mean Monday?”

Two local stories kept me on Page 1 and too damned tired at the end of each day to write another word—even in my blog. Now, however, I think of stories first in on-line terms, and each of these had different challenges in an interactive, or multimedia, world.

The Biz reporters broke the first one: the new amusement park, highly touted in these parts for more than a year as rare tourist draw, closed after only two months, owing money to nearly everyone within 100 miles. When one attraction is the world’s biggest ball of twine, which on some days is really smaller than one in Minnesota, touts of tourism growth get people all riled up. When the promise crashes, the tumble is all the tougher.

Once the second bankruptcy pleading rolled in, however, an editor ran to me and said “You cover courts: can you figure this out?” Bankruptcy is a specialized area, which we don’t usually cover it in this much detail. Those details included the Yellow Pages scrambling to take the failed business off its cover and the auction of corn dogs and frozen foods to raise some quick cash.

Multimedia? Our photographer Travis Heying had put together a cool panorama before the park opened which spoke now of emptiness rather than potential. But other than that, this was a document-heavy story. We put the source documents on-line – very 1999.

Interactive? You bet. The readers filled pages of comments. Everyone had an opinion and needed a place to express it. People were visiting our web site to post and read comments as much as to read the stories. The content of those comments showed they were reading.

And we owned the story. With no opportunity for fresh video, TV wasn’t following the bankruptcy proceedings and our numbers were growing daily.

Maybe there’s still room for good old-fashioned newspapering, no matter how it’s delivered.

Then the chemical plant north of town exploded.

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