#WAShooting and the need to have a prepared newsroom

January 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Dave Boardman, executive editor and Sr. V.P. of the Seattle Times Co., stopped by the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin this past week. He now officially oversees our newspaper which basically means that our publisher reports to him in Seattle. This was his first visit in this capacity.

As part of his visit he made a presentation to the U-B newsroom. The topic of his presentation was the Seattle Times coverage of the shooting deaths of 4 Lakewood police officers and the subsequent manhunt for Maurice Clemmons, the suspect behind the shootings. Their coverage was eventually awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Dave talked about how the Times had a plan – tools, training, leadership and dedication – in place that allowed them to react as soon as the first trickles of information about the shooting came into the sparsely populated newsroom.


Dave said that very few calls had to be made to get reporters, photographers and editors into the newsroom. As soon as the news of the shooting hit the public, members of the newsroom began making themselves available.


The newsroom leaders responded quickly by creating teams of reporters/editors/photogs to cover the various aspects of the story. One group was tasked the job of getting background information on the suspected murderer. Another teams was directed to compile information on the slain officers. And photographers and videographers hit the streets. Dave himself manned the Twitter feed.


The obvious one is Twitter. The Seattle Times team quickly settled on a hashtag, #WAShooting, which was soon used by other news organizations and by the general public to reference the Lakewood shooting coverage. Dave talked about how he was on Twitter duty for about 15 hours with the help of an assistant who would quickly verify information that was being disseminated via Twitter. This allowed Dave to clarify and correct misinformation. The ability to do this and to broadcast new details as they became available made a convert of Dave.

Seattle Times also has a very useful intranet site that is accessible by all their employees. It is typically used for inter-company communications but also is used as a way to share files and notes. So during their coverage of the shooting and the manhunt for Clemmons they used the space to share notes and updates. The site also serves as a gateway to a number of searchable databases which were extensively used to identify the slain police officers, Clemmons and his family.


Boardman mentioned that they typically cannot afford to send reporters to training workshops so they often do in-house training – often during lunchtime.

What it all means for the U-B

We need to put a plan in place that will allow us to easily and quickly get informative updates to the community in case of an emergency or breaking news situation. In the recent past, we have relied on Twitter to get update out but unfortunately, those updates have only been visible on Twitter which is of absolutely no use to the vast majority of Walla Wallans who don’t have a Twitter account.

A little over a year ago, there was a police standoff in Walla Walla.  I found myself directly across the street armed with my cell phone (at that point I did not have a smart phone so was only able to post to Twitter via TXT message) and Flip camera. The only people that saw those updates were those in the community that had a Twitter account AND happened to be logged in at that moment AND were also following the U-B Twitter feed. A couple of hours later I was able to edit together a quick video. But that is hardly the kind of breaking news updates that are required and expected by our customers.

We’ve also relied on Facebook but again, despite Facebook’s popularity there are always those without accounts or those that happen to not be connected at a particular time.

I will set up a front page template that incorporates our Twitter feed and possibly some form of liveblogging widget like CoveritLive or ScribbleLive (which we used effectively during the recent mid-term elections.) When the time comes we will be able to easily switch to this template and have live updates appear on  the front page of our website.

In the last couple of years we have held some in-house video training and we may expand it to include mobile and social media reporting tools like Twitter and Facebook.

This will most likely also require our company to purchase some smartphones and/or internet ready netbooks.

First step is to come up with a written plan and ask that upper management sign off on it and make any necessary investments. I’m very confident that it will happen especially after Dave Boardman’s presentation.


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