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Covering an earthquake in a new media world

This week I started my new job as an online content producer with WEWS, the ABC affiliate in Cleveland, Ohio. I have worked for various newspapers, TV stations and online entities, but this position is my first “real” job out of college, and it is a great place to start my career. I am surrounded by smart and talented people, and I can learn so much by just watching those around me.

Maybe the best part about the job is the company’s commitment to the web. I have always viewed myself as a digital journalist and embraced the blurring lines between various mediums. With my new job, those lines are becoming non-existent, and days like today continue to convince me that the Internet has so many advantages over the old forms of media.

This afternoon, Cleveland experienced the kind of news event that happens once every 20 years in this area—an earthquake.

The quake resulted in little or no damage, and it lasted for only a few seconds. Nobody was hurt. No buildings fell down. Maybe a picture fell off the wall in someone’s house, but even that might be a stretch.

The tremors people felt in Cleveland were minimal, and were mostly limited to shaky chairs or swinging blinds. But that didn’t matter. It was still an earthquake. In Cleveland.

Within minutes of the tremors (which I didn’t even feel), our newsroom started to buzz. Our Twitter feed immediately filled with chatter about the quake. Then came the e-mails, followed by the phone calls. Everyone wanted to know if the city had really experienced an earthquake.

Suddenly, our newsroom was in breaking news mode. I loved it.

All of the attention was on the web staff, and we needed to operate efficiently in this new media environment: Fast. Cross platform. Evolving. Accurate.

We started by tweeting that some people had reported feeling an earthquake, and that the station was looking into story. We also posted a message on Facebook and got a short story on our website. We asked people to share if they felt the quake, and tell us about it on Facebook or with comments on our site. In about five minutes, all of this was up on the web, and people were flocking to our site.

But it didn’t end there. In fact, the coverage was just getting started.

More information continued to pour in, and the entire newsroom went into full reporting mode. We confirmed an earthquake actually occurred, and also where it originated (Ontario, Canada). We then found out the magnitude of the quake (initially 5.5, then downgraded to 5.0). Reporters talked with people who felt the quake asked them to share what happened.

During all of this, the web story continued to evolve. We added information as we gathered it, continuing the make the story more complete and informative. And we did so in a number of ways—on our site, on Twitter and Facebook, using e-mail updates, and eventually with a breaking news interruption on television (about 30 minutes after the first web story was posted).

The great thing about this web story is that it was never really finished. It constantly evolved and developed, and the web allowed us to continually refine it.

In the past, the thinking of traditional media was to wait until the story was completely finished and polished. News directors and editors believed that it reflected poorly on the organization if they ran a story that was only partially completed.

Not anymore. Not with the web.

Our story changed a number of times throughout the day, and was updated with a series of video clips from day’s newscasts, photos submitted by viewers, an interactive map to show where the quake originated, and the official release from the U.S. Geological Survey.

It was thorough and informative; it was also constantly evolving. That is the way the web works. Online stories are fluid and should include input from a number of different perspectives, using the tools and technology like social media to reach people on a number of levels.

Our coverage of the earthquake did all of those things.

That is why is love the Internet.

Category: New Media Thoughts, WEWS

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