Sunday, June 24, 2012

the life of a breaking news story

The exhilirating part of my job is that it's so dang unpredictable, and nothing makes breaking news faster than a dumbass and weather.

But how does a breaking news story get from the scene to your computer screen? Or smart phone or tablet? The answer is simple: a team of people dedicated to their jobs, whether it's on a Sunday morning or not.

I thought I'd give you a behind-the-scenes look on the real time life of a breaking news story, and what could be more perfect an example then the news of today.

My phone rings at 9:30 and I'll admit: it woke me up. Seeing it was one of our photographers, I cleared my voice a million times, tested it (can you tell you've been sleeping? Nah, you're good), answered the phone.

"I'm sorry I woke you." Dang it. I have yet to nail the "you just woke me up but you'd never know" voice.

Something big's going on at O'Reilly Auto Parts - cops, SWAT, dogs, highways blocked. OK. Now I'm more than awake. I have details, all the information she can give me, all the information I need to abruptly hang up with her and make other calls.

{Here's the thing about breaking news. It's breaking. You don't have time to lollygag and speculate. You've got to move. In these situations, I've been known to hang up on reporters/photographers - you give me the necessary info and pleasantries are discarded for the sake of the news.}

I call the reporter on duty - she's about an hour away. I don't have an hour to wait. End that call. Take about 20 seconds to analyze my staff, mentally running off names and reasons why they're not available. I land on the one reporter who I'm counting on being available on his day off and more than capable of handling the story with me. I was right on both counts.

Everything's in place. The photographer's already on the scene; the reporter's on the way and I will be too. And then I wonder momentarily if I can do the work I need to from home. Nope. But that means your whole day's thrown off. Yeah, so? And it means you're not going to finish the projects you had planned. And? And it means you're not getting the full weekend off you'd been waiting for. Shhhh.

I put the dogs away, throw on some clothes, pack a lunch, which thankfully I'd cooked the night before, just hadn't planned on eating it at work, and received a text message from the photographer on the scene that police said we were dealing with a possible hostage situation.

After I contemplated for a second what to do with the information - I put it on our Facebook page. That was the first our readers were hearing about it, approximately 25 minutes after we arrived on the scene. But we had information and we had it from the source we needed it from: the police spokesperson.

{Sometimes that's the most frustrating thing about breaking news. We may know what's going on, but we have to wait to confirm it.}

I stopped and got a cup of coffee. At the exit I take to get to the paper, traffic was backed up for miles. My second Facebook status was warning readers about the obvious traffic problem.

I get to the newsroom about 45 minutes after the intitial phone call from our photographer. At 10:31, I got a phone call from the reporter on the scene who fed me the information he had from police. By 10:38, I've typed the information and put it on our website and linked to it from our Facebook page.

At 10:57, the reporter calls again with our first description of the suspect. I update the information on our website and Facebook page. At 11:05, I hear from the reporter again who says the suspect is no longer in the building; it's over. I again update our website and Facebook page.

The reporter and photographer return to the newsroom. Our adrenaline's still pumping and this is when they tell me everything they saw at the scene, how it all happened in incremental details and how we were first on the scene, first to break the story. And yeah, we're a little proud.

The photographer edits the photos; the reporter makes some follow up phone calls and writes the story. He leaves, I edit it. I talk to the page designer about where the story should go and four hours after I was woken up on my Sunday morning, I'm leaving the newsroom.

1 comment:

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