Sunday, January 24, 2010

Reporting for web only during the Scott Roeder murder trial

My first day as a web-only reporter ended promptly at 5 p.m. – a rarity in my three decades of journalism. That’s when court let out in the Scott Roeder murder trial in the shooting of a Wichita abortion doctor. It has been receiving national coverage.

I had been accustomed to staying late after court to rewrite the day’s events on the web for print. But for this trial another reporter is handling the print story, which also appears online as the day-after report.

Despite leaving early, I was exhausted. A courtroom deputy commented on how my fingers were flying across my Bluetooth keyboard with my Blackberry. One of my Twitter followers posted a picture of me taken from a screen grab of the television coverage, as I frantically filed updates. Note: I need to learn to sit up straight on those wooden court benches.

I was actually writing two updates. In addition to the filing Twitter updates, which were coming anywhere from 1-5 minutes apart, I was filing longer dispatches for our web site, which they were posting time-stamped, blog style. Online wanted those every 10-15 minutes.

All fed onto our trial page. We know some people watch the Twitter feed from our page, without ever having to go to Twitter. For people who don’t want to watch the up-to-the-minute tweets, they can come back to the page every so often and catch up with what’s going on, while having the Twitter stream available to see what’s happening at that minute.

For additional multimedia, we have a still photographer in the courtroom, and a laptop in the pressroom downloading the video pool stream. Travis Heying, at one point, was shooting stills in the courtroom and running into another part of the courthouse on breaks to edit and upload video from his Mac. Later in the day, Mike Hutmacher took over as the still pool reporter in the courtroom and Travis took care of video.

Also notice our links section on the trial page. We are linking to other local and national coverage, including blogs and commentary on the case.

Inspiration for the links came from a session at the SPJ National Convention last year called “All the News That’s Fit to Link.” If you’re an SPJ member, you can hear an audio download of that session.

Bill Adee, editor of digital media for the Chicago Tribune, spoke in that session about the success his staff saw when they started linking to other coverage within their own.

“People aren’t going to stop reading when they finish your story,” he said. They’re going to get on Google and search out other information. Why not be the launching spot to guide them.

After all, as Adee and panelist Scott Karp pointed out, knowledgeable humans ought to be able to put together a better list than a Google bot.

With this trial, we’re trying to put together all the learning we’ve been doing about web reporting over the last several years and put it into practice.

I’d love to hear what others think about our efforts: what you like, what you don’t like, what we’re doing right and what we could do better. After all, the news is always an evolutionary process.

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