As soon as I heard Harrisburg, Ill., had been hit by a tornado Wednesday morning, I knew it'd be a tough day at work.
Yes, it'd be busy, but it would also be tense because a GateHouse newspaper is there, the Daily Register, and I hoped that everyone there was OK.
The newspaper staff was more than OK -- they were in action all day, filing stories, photos and videos not only to their website, but to surrounding GH newspapers and to the news service. We heard from Daily Register editor Terry Geese that staffers knew some of those killed by the storm -- that made their dedication to reporting the news that much more admirable.
As the death toll from the storm rose Wednesday morning, News & Interactive jumped into action. We met to discuss and decide:
-- How do we get this news and multimedia on GateHouse websites?
-- How long will it take to build a microsite?
-- What content do we have for the site, and who will publish it? Where can we get more content from?
-- What graphics do we need for the site? What will we do for print?
-- How do we tell our newspapers what we're doing?
We assigned tasks in that meeting to specific people -- one handled web coding, one created graphics, one handled content for the news service and another handled content for the microsite -- and set to work. I was in charge of overseeing the work.
Having people dedicated to certain tasks made it easy to trust that things were getting done, and easier for me to monitor the site's progress, watch flow of copy to the news service and microsite, and spot when stories needed to be updated or when we were missing a key element, like social media widgets.
It's tough to try to create, edit and move copy while you're monitoring progress -- it helps to have a champion for any project your team is working on.
Other lessons we learned from this breaking news event:
-- Don't get frustrated by changes. Emotions are high in breaking-news situations, news comes in fast, and stories change quickly. Our website had a few versions before we decided on the best way to present our content, and it meant ditching our template and coding parts from scratch. It's hard to realize sometimes that doing more work or re-doing something you spent hours on because the situation is now different, is the right thing to do. Doing your best sometimes means scrapping something you put a lot of time into.
-- Plan check-in meetings along the way. It's easy in breaking news situations to let hours go by without stopping to check on whether a story needs an update, to realize you've had the same photo in your carousel for hours, etc. We planned short check-ins to keep everyone in the loop on when more photos would be in, when the site would be done, when notes were going out to other GH newspapers. This sharing of information helped -- no one was working in a vacuum.
-- Plan for Day 2. How will the site be different tomorrow? What new content can you get? Does anything need to be taken down? Waking up to look at your Day 1 coverage with fresh eyes is immensely valuable, as is meeting again on moving the story forward the day after the news happened.