Monday, February 1, 2010

Textual healing: The Roeder trial ends with a shot for out web site

Covering a murder trial can be as invigorating as it is grueling. The pressure increases when that trial becomes a national story, as it did with Scott Roeder, convicted of murdering Wichita abortion provider George Tiller.

As I said last week, I was assigned to report for web only. Another reporter took care of the print story. I did what I had been doing for the past two years of court reporting, using Twitter for my dispatches.

I’ve received attention for tweeting trials before. But this time, more people than ever were watching my twitter feeds. And we learned even more how valuable it was to driving traffic to our web sites.

Web producer Eba Hamid said early in the trial that every time I tweeted a link to a courtroom video, it got double the page views.

At the end of every trial, I routinely ask people for feedback, and I got 11 pages of responses.

Among them:

  • @lummox_ict: @rsylvester Thanks for the tweets! Could you do the same thing for Avatar.
  • @JenWPortraits: Thanks again to @rsylvester for lowering employee productivity all over Wichita this week. Great job!
  • And @ryansholin (who introduced me to Twitter): @rsylvester’s tweets from the Roeder Trial kept me engaged with a story I’d usually only read as a headline from a national news org.

Back in the newsroom, Eba and content editor Lori O’Toole Buselt took my tweets and crafted them into text blocks for the daily trial updates. I would tweet links to those throughout the day, so people could catch up without having the read thought a bunch of tweets, scattered in the timelines with the rest of their Twitter friends.

Without rewriting the day’s events for print, however, I found myself missing one important element of what I do: writing and storytelling.

Sure, I always say Twitter helps you right tight. With a 140-character limit, there’s no room for wasted words. And people like you to filter their information. We are journalists, after all, and that’s what we do. But it’s just not the same as crafting a good story.

I got to do that at the end of the trial. My tradeoff for doing web only was I agreed to work on a narrative that was supposed to run in Sunday’s newspaper. It was a magazine-length article, taken from the week’s testimony. But when the obits ran two long in Sunday’s paper, it was sent to the web site only.

I'd been totally shut out of print for this trial.

Did it matter? Well, it was the No. 1 read story today on It drew more readers, comments and reactions than the weekend’s basketball game between the University of Kansas and Kansas State, the local Wichita State basketball team, and an online database of traffic tickets that had dominated the top spot with readers for weeks.

It also shows people will read a story, no matter where it's told.

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