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Teaching Online Journalism

Breaking news on the Web should be routine

In an upbeat, happy column from the readers representative at The San Diego Union-Tribune, we consider the U-T’s Breaking News Team, which provides round-the-clock local news on the newspaper’s Web site.

“How do so few do so much so quickly?” is apparently the question inspired by the team’s performance over the past two and a half years.

Team members confer with their editors frequently, but they often edit postings for each other, and they don’t wait for assignments or debate whether to head out for a promising story.

Karen Kucher, one of the original members of the team and an assistant editor, said, “Our default is supposed to be to go.” …

“When something big happens, it’s amazing how everybody just sort of figures out how to cover the news. It’s seamless,” Kucher said.

Compare the T-U’s effective modus operandi to the newsroom organization at the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, which “was caught completely flat-footed” when a gunman killed eight people in a shopping mall on Dec. 5, according to Alan Mutter, who accused the W-H of “the worst online coverage in memory by a newspaper with a major story breaking in its own backyard.” Ouch.

The poor coverage evidently was caused by a lack of contingency planning on the part of editors, Web producers, reporters, photographers and all the other people who are responsible for rapidly, thoughtfully and accurately gathering the information and visual assets necessary to tell a story like this in the age of multimedia.

Editorial strategy and planning for the 21st century: San Diego’s got it. Omaha didn’t. How about your newsroom?

Thanks for the San Diego tip to The Moderate Voice, Dec. 14.


Categories: reporting


5 Comments

  1. Mindy – I think you ask a great question and one that I wish more newspapers would answer. This is an important area where we could learn more from each other. I recently highlighted, on my blog, the fine work of the Pocono Record, a small newsroom, in covering a deadly fire. Their approach (which involved organization and training) could be a lesson for larger newspapers, as the quality of their work could have easily appeared on the larger site. While I think I provide a good overview in my post of the Pocono Record’s approach, I’m sure they would be willing to help anyone who wants some guidance.

  2. [...] On a related note, Mindy McAdams says breaking news should be routine. [...]

  3. Craig McGill says:

    Mindy, a fair point but I think a) resources play a part and b) a lot of papers still won’t move/invest heavily in an area until they are well and truly scooped in it or all the competition is doing it: reaction and not proaction seems to be the order of the day all too often.

  4. Pat Thornton says:

    Craig,

    Don’t work for a newspaper like that.

    Newspapers unwilling to understand this fundamental element of online journalism do not serve their readers. And frankly I will not shed a tear when they close up in 5-10 years.

  5. Mindy says:

    I have to agree with Pat — if your newspaper is still in the stone age, then find a new news organization to work for. Some of these companies are committing suicide. If they’re too clueless to realize it, you shouldn’t stay there.

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