Archive for the ‘2008 Iowa floods’ Category

This week’s flood in Cedar Rapids brings a sick, familiar feeling.

I hope the current forecast of a crest at around 22 feet is right this time. That’s a bad flood. But I do know that flood forecasts can be wrong. The email below, sent late the night of June 11, 2008, warned of a crest at 24.7 feet, which would have been a record. The actual crest less than two days later was more than 31 feet.

It was a record-setting disaster for my then-community, similar to the flood my now-community experienced this summer. (This time I wasn’t involved in flood coverage.)

I don’t have much new to say about this flood, except that I’m confident Executive Editor Zack Kucharski and his staff will excel in covering this flood. Many veterans of the 2008 flood have moved on, either voluntarily or as the Gazette cut staff. But I count more than 20 veterans of the 2008 flood still on hand, including Zack and several others who played key roles. They know what to do.

I hope the waters don’t rise above expected levels again. But I’m certain the staff will perform at whatever level the community needs, whatever the obstacles.

The Gazette has some good aerial photos of this year’s flood, but they’re not showing nearly as extensive flooding, especially in areas with homes and businesses, as what we experienced in 2008. I hope it never again approaches that level.

Here are previous posts I’ve written about the 2008 flood, and the award-winning double-truck front page, designed by Rae Riebe, with a design suggestion from Michelle Wiese and a powerful photo by Liz Martin:

Our June 13, 2008, front and back pages.

Our June 13, 2008, front and back pages.

The Cedar Rapids flood: Hard to believe it was four years ago

Mississippi Gulf Coast recovering slowly

If “The Fifth Season Is Progress,” it better be a long season

No Pulitzer, but still high honor for Gazette staff

Gazette flood coverage wins Sigma Delta Chi Award

Recognition for Gazette’s outstanding journalism

Disaster coverage in the digital age

Time for Cedar Rapids to get pushy


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The Gazette’s double-truck front page from June 13, 2008

Wow, I didn’t think this date would sneak past me, but it did. Not until Chuck Offenburger tweeted did I realize that this was the fourth anniversary of the Cedar Rapids flood:

I’m not sure whether I’m amazed that it’s already been four years or that it’s only been four years. But it doesn’t seem like four years ago.

Maybe next year I’ll anticipate the anniversary and write something more thoughtful. But here are some quick reflections: (more…)

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This decade is ending with much less fanfare than the past one, which was the turn of both a century and a millennium.

This decade passed without really getting a name — the Oughts didn’t quite stick, like I guess they did a century earlier (they so didn’t stick that I don’t even know or care whether Oughts or Aughts would be the preferred spelling).

If you don’t have much patience for self-indulgent reflections, this might be a good time to go read something else, because I’m going to look back on the past decade of my career. (more…)

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Here is a draft of a story I wrote for this Sunday’s Gazette, based on some reporting I did when I was in Biloxi last month and some follow-up reporting by telephone after returning to Cedar Rapids. For more on the recovery on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, check the coverage in the Sun Herald.

Biloxi, Miss. – Billboards along Interstate 10 tell the mixed story of a resort town fighting its way back. Most signs invite visitors to the casino shows of yesteryear’s stars (Johnny Mathis, Gladys Knight, Engelbert Humperdinck). But one billboard targets local residents, hundreds of whom still live in FEMA trailers. The sign informs the locals that new flood insurance maps are ready.

The communities of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast have spent nearly four years learning how difficult, demanding and slow disaster recovery can be. (more…)

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This will be my column for Monday’s Gazette.

The Fifth Season Is Progress” proclaims a billboard as you approach the Cedar River on Interstate 380.

Almost a year ago, the I-380 bridge was the only way to cross the river in downtown, as the river surged for blocks beyond its banks in both directions, swallowing bridges and buildings in its path.

As you may recall, I moved to town that week. As Mimi and I we drove toward Cedar Rapids on Monday of that week, we noted how high the Iowa River was south of town and wondered if it might close I-380 soon (it did, later that week). 

By Thursday, the city was inundated. You remember the rest of the story. If you weren’t here to experience it, you can read and watch our anniversary coverage in the coming week.

As a newcomer, I was puzzled by the “City of Five Seasons” nickname. I remembered from my time in Des Moines people mocking Cedar Rapids as the “City of Five Smells.” I could remember why the reference to smells (and got quick reminders, if I forgot), but could not recall why it was called the “City of Five Seasons” and what the fifth one was.

Before moving here, I began asking people I met around the country what they knew about Cedar Rapids. No one knew about the alleged five seasons and if I asked, they showed no recognition. So I could see that if the nickname was intended to promote the city to outsiders, it wasn’t working.

People had enough trouble remembering our real name. I had people congratulate me on moving to Cedar Springs and Cedar Bluffs (and once since moving here, a colleague wrote about me being from Grand Rapids).

So I asked locals after I moved here, thinking maybe the nickname had some value in helping define the city to its residents. No, most people I asked couldn’t identify the fifth season and if they could (“Time to Enjoy”) they explained it sheepishly.

So a couple months after the flood, I suggested we needed a new nickname, something reflecting the fact that enjoyment had been curtailed during a struggle for recovery. While a few people who had invested time in promoting the Five Seasons nickname criticized me, most of the response I received was support (or derision for the whole notion of city slogans and nicknames).

Still, I had to admit that the city had more pressing needs than launching a new branding campaign, so I let it drop. But I still shook my head frequently when I saw signs and logos promoting the outdated Five Seasons theme.

So I’ll have to give qualified support to “The Fifth Season Is Progress.”

It answers the question that the original nickname raised. It doesn’t need a new campaign to launch or promote it (or change all the city signs and logos, perhaps the best reason I heard for not changing the slogan). It addresses the disaster that has come to define our city to most people who know who we are. And it says we’re coming back.

The Gazette’s editorial board met last week with Mayor Kay Halloran, City Manager Jim Prosser, City Council member Brian Fagan and other city officials. They gave us a four-page brochure touting progress since the flood and you have to agree that much has been done. They explained the need to take the time to make the right decisions for the long term, even if that means we have to wait a while for action, and again, you have to agree with the principle, even if you want a faster recovery pace.

I’ve enjoyed every bit of the progress — playing basketball at the downtown YMCA and eating dinner at the Chrome Horse and Blend, lunch at Maid-Rite and Victor’s and kolaches from Sykora.

I wonder, though, why “Progress” is a temporary slogan. The need for progress will linger (and they promise the progress will continue) long beyond the 30-day run planned for this slogan.

Here’s why I qualify my support: We’ve made a lot of progress, but not enough. 

Drive down 3rd Street SE in the New Bohemia area, then cross the river and drive 19th Avenue SW, just a few blocks south of the reviving Czech Village businesses. Wander the streets of Time Check that aren’t blocked off. You might want to erect — or possibly spray-paint — a sign saying, “The Fifth Season Is Plywood.”

If it’s a boast, “The Fifth Season Is Progress” falls short. As a challenge, as encouragement, as a promise that we’re just getting started, it works. 

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I savor every uplifting story about journalism in these difficult times.

My last post dealt, as most of my work and writing today does, with the difficult times in the news industry and in our search for solutions. Sometimes we need stories of great journalism, to fuel our fight for a prosperous future.

I read two such stories this week in the New York TimesLens photojournalism blog.

First Lens recounted the stories of the four photographers who captured the moment 20 years ago when the “tank man” stopped a line of tanks attempting to quell student protests in Tiananmen Square. Their stories are filled with fascinating details about saving film from Chineese authorities, personal risk and protection and transmitting photos in the pre-Internet age.

Even more fascinating, to me, was the Lens story of Terril Jones and the photo he shot moments before the tank confrontation. The other photographs were shot from the balconies of a hotel. Jones was on the ground, fearing for his safety as the tanks approached, firing their guns. In the last shot he fired before fleeing to safety, you see a young man dashing toward the camera, his head ducked in fear. And in the distance, calm amid the uproar, you see a man with a white shirt and two bags, awaiting the oncoming tanks. It’s a compelling story, a compelling moment of premeditation and courage.

Context matters, even 20 years later.

I love hearing the stories behind great photos and these two stories remind me of some other uplifting stories about great photos or videos:

  • My April post, The heart: one of journalism’s best tools, about Allan Thompson’s story in the Toronto Star, identifying the father and daughter in Nick Hughes’ horrifying video of genocide in Rwanda.
  • I remember the evening Gazette photographers spent at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, explaining the stories behind some of the photos in the Year of the River exhibit of Gazette flood photography.
  • National Geographic’s A Life Revealed story about the successful attempt to find the Afghan girl with the haunting green eyes, photographed by Steve McCurry in 1985, who came to symbolize the hard life of Afghan refugees. 
  • One of the best stories of my career was the story of Buddy Bunker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo The Homecoming, told first in 1997 at the Omaha World-Herald and then again as a multimedia story for GazetteOnline after a home movie surfaced 65 years after the homecoming. 
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I’m glad I wrote this before The Gazette was shut out for this year’s Pulitzer Prizes: The highest honor in journalism is not the Pulitzer, but the respect of your community.

I have judged, won and lost enough contests in my career that I don’t take awards very seriously. I smile when we win and force a smile when we lose. But if you spend your career pursuing prizes, the rare rewards will not offset the fact that you’ve missed out on the true joys of journalism, which lie in the work, not the recognition.

I will say this about awards: I respect all of this year’s Pulitzer winners and enjoyed all the awards we did win (national awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Inland Press Association, regional awards from the National Press Photographers Association and state awards from the Iowa Newspaper Association and the Iowa Associated Press Managing Editors (I hope I didn’t leave one out; it’s been a good year).

I am particularly pleased that the outstanding innovative journalism of Bill Adair and Matt Waite won a Pulitzer for PolitiFact and the St. Petersburg Times. I interviewed Waite and praised his creative use of databases in PolitiFact in a report I wrote last year for the American Press Institute‘s Newspaper Next project.

I also am glad to see the Las Vegas Sun recognized for its commitment to investigative journalism. I praised the Detroit Free Press for its watchdog journalism last week and I’m delighted that the Pulitzer judges agreed.

When I was at API, I did a lot of work with Freedom Newspapers and the East Valley Tribune. I had breakfast last fall with the Tribune’s Publisher Julie Moreno and Editor Jim Ripley (since retired), discussing their plans to cut back from daily publication, stress their daily digital content and reduce their staff. I am pleased that the Tribune won a Pulitzer and pleased that a reporter who lost his job won a Pulitzer. In today’s newspaper world, that was appropriate. In fact,  if we had won, I would have made sure to salute our colleagues who lost their jobs in February for their contributions.

I’ve had my share of brushes with Pulitzer fame, though the personal result has always been the same as this year — applauding the success of others. I did a little copy editing on the project that won Jim Risser his second Pulitzer for the Des Moines Register. I was Tom Knudson‘s editor at the Register before he went on to win two Pulitzers, one in Des Moines and one at the Sacramento Bee. I was involved (long story that I won’t go into here) in a project at the Kansas City Star that won a Pulitzer for Jeff Taylor and Mike McGraw. (Jeff is senior managing editor at the Detroit Free Press and was celebrating again yesterday.) I’ve worked with several other Pulitzer winners. And none of them was a better journalist than Ken Fuson, who won lots of national awards but retired from the Register last year without a Pulitzer.

Judging journalism contests is difficult. I have judged lots of national, regional, company and state contests. Two judges can read the same batch of entries and come away with completely different lists of their top three winners. Neither is right, neither is wrong; picking the best of great journalism is just subjective and difficult. I always respect the judges’ choices, regardless of whether I like the outcome.

I proudly nominated several entries from our coverage of the flood of 2008 as well as Jennifer Hemmingsen‘s outstanding Fruit of the Poisonous Tree series. We didn’t win and we weren’t named as finalists. The Gazette still hasn’t won a Pulitzer since 1936.

I know we submitted worthy entries. I appreciated the encouragement of colleagues and people in the community who expressed optimism for our chances. (I was especially pleased to read Chuck Offenburger‘s tweet yesterday, saying that he was surprised someone from Iowa or Omaha didn’t win; Chuck, who gave me my first job in this business, is another great journalist who wrote some Pulitzer-worthy material but didn’t land the prize).

As I told a colleague who shared my disappointment yesterday, I couldn’t be any prouder of my staff if we had won the prize. Happier, sure, but not prouder.

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I hope you’ll pardon some boasting as I note that The Gazette today won the 2008 Sigma Delta Chi Award.

Our coverage of the floods of 2008 won the deadline reporting award for newspapers under 100,000 circulation.

This continues a terrific run of recognition for our outstanding staff, which has previously won awards for our flood coverage from the Inland Press Association, National Press Photographers Association, Iowa Newspaper Association and Iowa Associated Press Managing Editors (and maybe something that I forgot).

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If you want to follow or help chronicle the progress of flood recovery in Czech Village, spend some time with “It Takes a Village.”

This multimedia project by Gazette staff members Cindy Hadish, David Miessler-Kubanek and Greg Schmidt shows pictures and reports the status of businesses in the  historic Czech Village area of Cedar Rapids.

Click on the Bohemian Cafe and Pub or the Red Frog and you’ll see when they reopened (I need to choose one of them for dinner this weekend). Click Zindrick’s and you’ll see that it should be reopening in May. Eight businesses show that they will not be returning and 12 are still undecided. But an encouraging 17 are  either open or planning to reopen.

While our staff has prepared the basic information, we invite you to help tell the story. If one of these is your business, or if you were a loyal customer, each entry has a place where you can add a comment.

“It Takes a Village” is part of our continuing effort to tell stories, especially the complex and continuing stories of flood recovery using interactive tools such as multimedia and databases.

If you haven’t already spent some time clicking through (or adding your information to) IowaFloodStories, I encourage you to spend some time checking property by property for information throughout Cedar Rapids’ flood zone.

Or check out our projects on the collapse, cleanup and reconstruction of the CRANDIC bridge across the Cedar River; the “Year of the River” series we did last fall, with journalists Orlan Love and Jim Slosiarek canoeing the river; our “Unstoppable Epic Surge” video; or our directory of flood coverage.

We’ve written a lot of stories and shot a lot of photographs relating to the flood and the recovery. But our staff is demonstrating that we have many other storytelling tools as well.

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Judges in two Iowa journalism contests affirmed this weekend what I hope you already know: The staff of The Gazette and GazetteOnline have been doing some outstanding journalism.

If you don’t like boasting, go read something else, because I want to take some time to brag about our staff.

Journalists can’t work in pursuit of prizes. I have been a judge or coordinated judging for dozens of journalism contests. However seriously judges take their work, they often have a lot entries to work through and they never have the perspective of the community audience for whom the work is produced.

Not long after last June’s floods, I started fielding suggestions from readers that we needed to nominate our staff’s work for Pulitzer Prizes. My response has been consistent: Yes, we will send in several Pulitzer entries (we did), but I don’t consider the Pulitzer Prize to be the highest honor in journalism. The highest honor in journalism is the respect of your community, so I’m more pleased to be asked about it by people in the community than I will be if we win.

And the fact of the matter is: Judging for journalism awards is unpredictable and subjective.

When I announced on Twitter Friday night that we had taken second place in the front-page category at the Iowa Newspaper Association awards, a friend on Facebook quickly asked what could have been a better front page than our June 13 “EPIC SURGE” wraparound cover? Well, the front-page entry is three different front pages: two from specified weeks and one of the newspaper’s choice (of course, we chose June 13). The judges liked the Dubuque Telegraph Herald’s three better than our three, so they took first place and I congratulate Editor Brian Cooper and his staff on that award. (We did win for best headline writing and best total newspaper design, and the “EPIC SURGE” edition was the centerpiece of those entries, too, so maybe we were getting a little greedy.)

Gazette staff members brought home a lot of awards from Friday night’s INA banquet in Des Moines, where INA and the Iowa Associated Press Managing Editors both hand out awards.

Two efforts accounted for most, but not all, of our awards: The “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” series on prostitution in Eastern Iowa and our coverage of the June floods and the flood recovery.

Winners of first-place or individual awards were Jennifer Hemmingsen, Adam Belz, Liz Martin, Scott Dochterman, Jim Slosiarek, Jonathan Woods and former intern Amanda LaRae Larkin.

Jennifer was a multiple winner in both contests for “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” (a series that ran before I arrived, so I applaud without taking any credit). In the APME awards, she won the Writing Sweepstakes Award for the best writing entry as well as a first and a second in specific categories. She also won two first places and a third place in the INA awards.

We won several other first-place awards. Scott won first place from both INA and APME for his “Sports & Recovery” series about sports helping towns recover from tragedy. Jim won a first in APME for a sports feature photo from the Drake Relays. Amanda won for the best video, about a 71-year-old triathlete. Liz and Jon collaborated on the best slideshow, from the funeral of the Sueppel family. We also won in spot news story, slideshow and video. In additon, lots of staff members won second and third place in both contests.

INA names three outstanding young journalists and two of those honored Friday were Gazette staffers: reporter/blogger Adam Belz and photojournalist Liz Martin. Both were key players in our flood coverage.

Liz took the photo of May’s Island underwater that was on that June 13 cover and the cover of the “Epic Surge” book. She took many other photos you’ve been admiring in the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and the “Epic Surge” book since they appeared in The Gazette and GazetteOnline, including that huge aerial shot of Cedar Rapids at the museum and the shot of the clean spots under a place setting on a filthy tablecloth at Zins.

Adam has been one of our lead writers in flood coverage from the first. He wrote the narrative account of the successful effort to save the Edgewood Drive water well, a story people still praise when I’m speaking or meeting people in the community.

That community praise does matter the most. But also enjoy acclaim from our peers.

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Here are links to some digital storytelling examples I used in today’s Iowa Newspaper Association workshop:

Gazette flood photo galleries

GazetteOnline Boulevard of Broken Dreams story by Mike Hlas and slide show by Jim Slosiarek

Jeff Raasch GazetteOnline video of evacuations in Cedar Rapids

Des Moines Register’s Parkersburg tornado interactive map

GazetteOnline “Broken Bridge” interactive multimedia by David Miessler-Kubanek

Collegiate Times breaking news liveblog of Virginia Tech massacre

RRStar.com breaking news liveblog of Northern Illinois campus shootings

Gazettemojo Twitter feed


GazetteOnline relocated businesses database

Gazette’s IowaFloodStories.com interactive storytelling database

StarTribune.com’s “13 Seconds in August” interactive database

Nola.com’s “Last Chance” interactive graphic on Louisiana’s vanishing coastline

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Are you ready for a disaster?

Using digital tools and skills for the big story

This is my handout from a workshop for the Iowa Newspaper Association, February 6, 2009

Effective coverage of a disaster involves both preparedness and adaptability. The more you are trying new skills in routine stories, the more useful you will find the skills in a disaster. You also need to be willing to try some things you haven’t done before, as the situation dictates. Most journalists and news organizations pride themselves in hustling to cover big breaking stories in print. We’re still learning to use the skills and tools of the digital world and each disaster or other big breaking story presents opportunities to use your new skills. This workshop and handout will focus on disaster coverage, but many of the same principles and techniques apply to other big, breaking stories such as a terrorist attack or a mass murder.

Preparing for the disaster

Much of your best work in covering a disaster will be the things you do long before the flood, earthquake, wildfire, hurricane or other disaster. Assess the tools and skills your organization has and needs and work on developing your skills and capabilities on routine stories.

Check your server capacity. Make sure that your servers can handle the traffic of a big story. Daily traffic at GazetteOnline increased nearly 15 times during the peak of the June flooding of Cedar Rapids. If we had been unable to handle the traffic, we would have lost opportunities to serve our community as well as to connect with people interested in the story around the country and beyond. Whether you need to buy more servers or rely on servers of outside vendors, be certain that you can handle a sudden spike in web traffic. Decide also what content you can ditch quickly to increase your capacity.

Provide breaking news alerts. If you aren’t already providing breaking-news alerts by email or text message, start doing that. Promote them as a service to your community and use them regularly for school closings, sports scores, traffic problems and other breaking news of interest to the community. Routine use of your breaking-news alerts gives you a valuable tool and an eager audience during the disaster story.

Develop interactive databases. Every news organization should be using interactive databases regularly to tell stories better, to serve your community and to build audience. You will absolutely want to use interactive databases during the disaster, so start developing your skills with them on routine daily and enterprise stories.

Start liveblogging. You need to develop the skills of telling a story as it unfolds. Whether you liveblog or use frequent updates or both, you need to develop the skills and rhythms of telling the developing story. Use CoverItLive or a regular blogging program to cover meetings, sports events, trials and other routine news, so you are comfortable with liveblogging when your audience wants constant updates on the big news. You still need to remember the principles of accuracy and verification in liveblogging, but your standard of completeness changes. One new fact is worth a new entry.

Use video. If you’re not using video yet, it’s time to get started. You will absolutely want strong video skills when the disaster hits.

Use slideshows and photo galleries. Again, these are essential storytelling tools in a disaster. Don’t wait until then to learn how to do them.

Use maps to tell stories. Start using interactive maps if you aren’t doing that already routinely on stories where geography is a significant element (and that’s a lot of stories).

Update your equipment. The right equipment will save you important time in a disaster. Make sure that you have plenty of laptop computers for reporters. Make sure that your reporters know how to use them. (The ideal work station for a reporter is a laptop computer, hooking into a dock for desktop use.) Make sure you have cell cards available, so you can transmit stories and photographs even when you don’t have a wi-fi signal. Mobile devices with email capability also are important. If your photographers don’t have some waders, consider buying some if your community is prone to hurricanes or flooding.

Practice working by remote. Make sure your staff members know how to file stories, photos or videos from their homes or other remote locations and know how to post directly to the web.

Check your disaster plan. Make sure your organization has a complete disaster plan that covers the various possibilities. Do you have a backup generator? How much power does it provide? If it doesn’t give enough power to run your building at normal operations, decide which computers you would use in a disaster? Do you have fans to cool the newsroom if your backup generator can’t run the air conditioning? Do you have portable lights for the newsroom, if the backup generator won’t run your normal lights? Do you have enough extension cords to provide power the computers, lights and fans you will power from a backup generator? Know where you will buy drinking water and rent portable toilets if the water and sewer systems fail in a disaster. Do you have provisions for temporary lodging for staff members who might lose their homes or be unable to reach their homes?

Anticipate the approaching disaster. Many disasters strike without warning. But we can see many weather disasters such as hurricanes, floods and blizzards coming. It’s better to anticipate a disaster that turns out to be a minor storm than to get blindsided by a storm that grows worse than expected.

When disaster strikes

Update early and often.

This advice shares lessons from the experience of The Gazette and GazetteOnline in covering the floods that overwhelmed Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and much of Eastern Iowa in June 2008. It also reflects lessons I have compiled from listening and reading to editors from other news organizations that have excelled in covering disasters, including Jon Donley of nola.com, Regina McCombs of StarTribune.com, John Jackson of Roanoke.com, Stan Tiner of the Sun Herald, Ju-Don Roberts and Tom Kennedy of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive and Pat Rice of the Northwest Florida Daily News.

The rest of the handout is for my basic workshop on multimedia storytelling. These techniques are helpful in any story or situation but become especially valuable in a disaster.

Multimedia storytelling

Telling stories for a multi-platform news organization involves several choices. They won’t all apply to every story, but you should consider them with every story:

  • Should you file immediately for digital audiences?
  • What are the multimedia elements of your story?
  • How can you make the story interactive?
  • What links will provide greater depth?
  • Should you tell this story in an alternate form, something other than the traditional string of paragraphs? (I don’t include tips on alternate story forms here, but check the handout for my workshop on alts.)

As you consider each question, decide what job this story is doing for the user. Are you amusing, informing, giving useful information? The job that the story does will often help you decide how to tell it. Also consider who your audience for the story is. These considerations about potential users will guide some of your decisions about how to tell the story. Effective storytelling is a collaborative process among journalists with varying specialties. Communication and coordination throughout the process are essential.

Be first with the news

The ridiculous concerns about “scooping yourself” online have finally been put to rest in much of the newspaper industry. Before the Web, we had to concede an advantage to broadcast media in covering breaking news. Now we can and must own breaking news. It drives web traffic and it marks your organization as the place to turn for news. So reporters need to learn what to break online and how to write an unfolding story.

Accuracy still rules. When you cover a breaking news story online, basic rules on accuracy and verification don’t waver. Your standard of completeness changes, but not your standard of accuracy. You can report a one-sentence bulletin and add updates as you get them. But don’t report even a single sentence unless you are confident enough of the facts in that sentence to print them.

File the news bulletins and updates however you can. A wireless-equipped laptop is the best tool for filing breaking news. But you can email or text-message from a phone or PDA or call an editor and dictate. Whatever your tools, whatever the situation, the reporter’s job is to get key facts online as soon as you can verify them.

Consider liveblogging. Whether you are covering a breaking news story or a routine event such as a festival or government meeting, consider a liveblog, where you file a running account online, updated every few minutes with takes ranging from a single sentence to a few paragraphs. You can liveblog by posting frequent updates in almost any blogging software. Or you can use a program developed specifically for liveblogging, such as CoverItLive. Consider whether to allow interaction with the audience in the liveblog.

Digital is more than web. For an important breaking story, most organizations now use a brief text-message or email alert as the first step in telling the story. Practice using words effectively to convey the important news in just a few characters. The same brief alert can also be a Twitter or RSS feed.

Tell the story. After you have filed the first few facts as bulletins and brief updates, consider a writethru for a significant story. This will give your web users an overview of the story and give you an early draft of your print version of the story.

Consider multimedia

Consider video. Video is especially important to young users who are enjoying video on YouTube and other Internet sites. You need to make it an important part of your storytelling toolbox. If you’re covering an event, video can almost always be part of the story package. If characters are telling you interesting stories, let them tell part of the story in their own voice on a video clip. Video works best in stories with action or emotion. It’s best in stories where you are present for the action, rather than trying to figure out after the fact what happened. Talking heads giving information doesn’t make good video. Boring meetings are as boring on video as in stories. We don’t have to shoot all the video ourselves. More and more of life is captured on video. Even if a colleague is shooting video for a story or if we aren’t shooting video ourselves, video should be part of the information-gathering process. You can ask for official videos, security videos and home videos that will help you tell the story. You can use the web site to ask users to contribute their videos.

Consider audio. Digital audio recorders let us capture the voices of your characters. Telling stories in audio form allows users to download them to iPods and listen to them as they travel or work. Again, you don’t have to gather all the audio yourself. Recordings of official meetings or emergency phone calls or police radio traffic can bring extra dimensions to a story.

Consider slide shows. Slide shows let us tell stories in still photographs much more powerfully than the few photographs (or single photo) you have space for in your print edition.

Consider sound slides. Sometimes a video of a character speaking is pretty static visually. Put that voice over a slide show relating to the story, and you might have a strong storytelling tool.

Consider virtual reality. If the place you are writing about is important, you can show it to the user in a detailed interactive way by shooting 360-degree photographs and editing them into a steerable virtual reality that lets the user see what the place really looks like. You can get the software to edit still photos into VR at download.com.

Consider PowerPoints. Increasingly, the people we write about use PowerPoint slide shows to explain issues to their peers and staffs. We can use those same slide shows (or develop shows of our own) to explain the issues to our users. Keep in mind that most PowerPoints are accompanied by a person explaining the context of what you are seeing or connecting some dots. Consider whether you need some audio to accompany the slide show or some extra slides that provide that context or connection.

Consider maps. Geography is critical to many stories. An interactive map can place a story in perspective, with pins showing what happened where, with each pin linking to more detail about what happened there. You can turn a map into a timeline by numbering the pins.

Consider simulations. Many of your users grew up on video games. Your stories will be more meaningful online if you can offer simulations that help them try their skill at something you are writing about or use a game-like simulation to experience it more richly. You may not have to produce the simulations yourself. If the military or a corporation uses a simulation for a topic you’re writing about, see if you can get something to use online to help tell the story.

Consider animations. Computer animations can illustrate processes, such as how a new industrial process will work or how a disaster happened. Again, you don’t have to produce the animations yourself. But if you can obtain an animation, it would enhance the multimedia presentation of your story.

Consider source documents. Source documents let your audience dig into a story as deeply as they want. Some will be satisfied with your quote or two from the report or the indictment. Others will want to read the full document themselves. Whether as pdfs of paper documents or as links to online documents, add credibility and depth to your stories by adding the source documents. Don’t just do this with official documents. Love letters, old newspaper clippings and private journals can add depth and credibility to your stories as well.

Consider your archives. Many stories are really just chapters. Give your stories context by providing links to previous stories on this issue or related topics.

Consider interactivity

You can turn your user into a participant by making your story interactive. You can do this on at least four levels:

  • Involve participants in your reporting.
  • Involve participants in telling the story.
  • Help participants to personalize the story.
  • Engage participants in the continuation of the story.

Consider crowd-sourcing. Crowd-sourcing helps you connect with participants who know what you’re trying to find out in your reporting. Use the web site to connect with people who know something about the topic you’re writing about. Sometimes you will need to word the invitation carefully, so you’re not passing along rumors or tipping off competition. Invite your users to tell you what they know. Crowd-sourcing can help you connect with confidential sources or obtain official documents in an investigation. Crowd-sourcing can provide quick answers on a breaking news story. Crowd-sourcing can gather stories for a light feature. You can use the product of crowd-sourcing in multiple ways:

  • Invite people to e-mail you and you check out their tips and use the best stuff you can verify in your story.
  • Invite people to share their information directly online and their discussion supplements your story.
  • Invite the open online discussion and mine the best tips from that, using what you can verify in the story.

Consider a wiki or discussion thread. If you’re covering an event or issue, you could invite participants to tell their own story – either as a standalone or to supplement your own coverage – either as a wiki that each user adds to and edits what has been written before or as a discussion forum, where each contribution adds to what has come before.

Consider a live online chat. Either the reporter or a source (or both) could make your story interactive by doing a live online chat with your audience.

Consider databases and calculators. Users can personalize your stories when you provide databases that allow them to find the information that applies most closely to them. For instance, if the city approves an increase in property taxes, an online calculator can help each user decide how much his own increase will be. Or if you’re writing about falling test scores in schools, a database can allow users to find the numbers for their own children’s schools. Or you can get some sample questions and let users take the test (or part of it) themselves. Interactive maps are an effective database. The user can click on her neighborhood and get the information that means the most to her.

Consider discussion forums. If you’ve produced a good story, it should draw reaction from your audience. By establishing a forum for discussion, you allow the audience to continue the story with their opinions, experiences and questions. This may generate tips for follow-up stories. Or it may be a discussion that deepens the experience, however long it lasts.

Consider polls. A poll lets the audience participate in the story by adding their opinions. Be careful not to present an online poll as scientific. It measures passion more than it measures opinion. And all it measures is the digital audience.

Add value with links

Because newspapers like to keep all eyes on our products, outbound links are contrary to our culture. We want people looking at our products, rather than going elsewhere. We need to change that thinking. The value of outbound links made Google the most successful business of the Internet age. You inch toward becoming the Google of your community by providing links to other materials that answer users’ questions about your community. So in any story, consider how you can add value with links:

Don’t just quote, link. If you’re quoting a blogger, document, press release, news story (anything that exists elsewhere on the web), add a link to the source so readers can read the full piece if they wish. When you link, you never quote out of context.

Link to background sources. If you’re writing about a person or organization with a web site, link to the site, so curious users can learn more background than you’ll include in the story.

Link to your archives. You often will have stories in your archives that will provide background and context to the story you’re writing. Link to them, even if you have to resurrect them online.

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