Ottaway Breaking News Blogs

UPDATE (9:03 p.m. ET): Our main sites are back up and running:

UPDATE (8 p.m. ET): We expect our main news sites to be back online by 9:30 p.m. ET

We are experiencing some technical difficulties today, and our main sites will be inaccessible while server hardware is replaced.

You can, however, continue to receive updates via our breaking news blogs, which can be found here:


Are you ready for disaster?

In the aftermath of yesterday's snowstorm here on Cape Cod, I could not get outside via the normal side-door egress our family uses. The snow had drifted to about the height of my thighs, blocking the screen door from budging even an inch.

Luckily, the northeast winds had swept enough snow away from our more formal front entrance so I could escape through it to dig out the primary doorway. I whispered a little prayer of thanks to Mother Nature, and wondered what I would have done had the snow drifted in such a way to render both doors inoperable.

The other happy accident of the morning was that my wife, Brandy, ever the planner, had stowed our snow shovel in the basement after another recent storm, saving me from clearing the outdoor shed's doorway by hand to retrieve the shovel from where I ordinarily store it. I whispered another little prayer to her.

The universe's message was clear: Disaster planning should not be left to whispered prayers ex post facto.

I was reminded of that lesson this morning as I was reading Rob Curley's recent post, "Anatomy of a local breaking news story:"

If you are a newspaper publisher, right now — and I mean right this very second — go ask the people who are in charge of your website if they are ready for 100 times the normal traffic that your website would typically get.

When our team was in Naples and Lawrence, we had alternate templates that we could deploy on our sites for just this very reason.

Yep, you read that correctly. We didn’t buy tons and tons of back-up hardware and servers for emergencies — though that’s not a terrible gameplan. We simply had another version of our site ready to go on a moment’s notice that was built to be very low in graphics.
I have much deeper thoughts regarding the value of strategic and long-range tactical planning. Such forethought is unheard of in most newsrooms, where long-range amounts to a couple of Sunday papers from today. But let's tackle this small step for planning kind, first. When's the last time you openly discussed and plotted your online disaster plan?

When I say disaster, I don't necessarily mean circumstances under which you lose a server for more than a few hours, though planning for that with your IT folks is a must. I mean the exact situation Rob Curley describes: An event you must and will own, and therefore will attract national attention.

In his post, Rob described his 2005 Naples experience with Hurricane Wilma. I, too, had a similar circumstances -- five years ago next month -- when our coverage of the Station nightclub fire on projo.com was referenced by the network morning news programs and others, causing a huge spike in what was already a high traffic morning for us.

We were ready, because of experience we had gained during our Web coverage of 9/11. On that day, we had to create a text-only front page on the fly because of a spike we received after police reportedly had cornered a terror suspect at the Providence train station. In the end, that wasn't the case, but the lesson endured. We needed a text-only template at the ready, and should not be trying to invent such things on the spot.

So in 2003, when we needed the text-only front for a short period of time, we simply saved our at-the-ready index-breaking.html as index.html, uploaded, and skipped nary a content beat. Everyone knew the drill, so no one panicked.

(We also had enough foresight to have created an omnipresent backup version of the normal home page -- to also save us from ourselves in case we ever forgot to close a div or a table on any ordinary day. So we were also ready to restore the more richly designed home page when the traffic subsided to the point that our systems could handle it.)

Planning is not rocket science. It's just thought, and prep work.

John Wall and Christopher Penn, in their Jan. 2 Marketing Over Coffee podcast, suggested some New Year's resolutions that included annual tasks such as updating your resume and backing up your data. Belatedly, I add: Prepare for disaster. And next January, revisit the plan, if you haven't done so quarterly already. Planning done in such specifically timed chunks can go a long way toward readying you for the unexpected.


San Joaquin and Hudson Valley multimedia projects praised

Our San Joaquin and Hudson Valley staffs have received some accolades of late. If you haven't seen the projects that these clippings tout, set aside some time to check them out. They are riveting examples of the great storytelling we can accomplish by combining the strengths of the online medium with the outstanding reporting and writing skills within our newsrooms.
Don't just take my word for it. People more eloquent than I had this to say about the projects:
  • San Joaquin
    • Pauline's Picks via Editor & Publisher:
      "This is a piece where the multimedia elements are needed in order to best tell the story. True, it could have been done purely in print, but the photos and videos give the story depth and a much better idea of what the brothers' trip is like, not to mention the beauty of southern Mexico."
    • Cyberjournalist.net:
      "Note The Record’s excellent online slogan, 'News worth sharing online.'"
  • Hudson Valley
    • Pauline's Picks:
      "The project feels like a real-life episode of Law & Order.... The case has so many movable parts that the only way to really understand it is online, where you can see the taped confessions, the interviews with Hall's family, not to mention some of the graphic crime seen photos. So settle in and prepare to see a fascinating story."
    • Al's Morning Meeting via Poynter:
      "This is not just excellent journalism; it is a great example of how online interactive storytelling can make a story stronger, clearer, deeper and more memorable. Bravo."
    • Jon Marshall's News Gems via SPJ:
      "[Christine] Young employs a narrative style to humanize Hall and Jones and present the troubling facts of the case. The tremendous multi-media package, produced by John Pertel, comes with videos that accompany each story segment along with a timeline of the case, crime scene map, links to the case files and a 'where are they now' of the key players.
    • Advancing the Story:
      "Pertel and Young are... comfortable constructing stories with narration and on-camera segments, so the pieces are easy to watch and understand...."


May I be alerted when a story is updated?

As I was checking out this story from recordonline.com this afternoon (received via HVMG's Twitter profile... thanks, HVMG!), it occurred to me that there was no way -- short of revisiting the Web site or keeping the page open so I could refresh it periodically -- to stay updated on the story in an automated, user-friendly way.

Thinking out loud (well, virtually out loud) here, but as a user I'd love to opt into an alert when an ongoing story I've caught in midstream is updated. Ideally I could choose from either e-mail, IM or text alert options, and maybe even an RSS feed specific to that story that I could quickly subscribe to it in my Google Reader.

It would function in much the same way as when you receive e-mail when your blog posts have received comments, or when your posts on forums have received follow-up comments.

I've not seen this functionality anywhere. Have you?


Fun with photos, and engage your audience at the same time

Have you seen Photogamer?

There's a lot to like about this site/concept, and half of its beauty is its simplicity. It's essentially a blog and a Flickr group, melded into a fairly engaging social media experiment. It's highly addictive, both as a viewer and as an amateur photographer.

The concept is simple: Once a day, a photo subject is proposed via the blog. Then, those who are playing along upload their submission to their own photo account, and add the photo to the Photogamer group.

It's not a contest. It's intended simply as a medium through which amateur photographers can showcase themselves, and see how their peers tackled the same subject.

Not a photographer? Well, we already know our users love to peruse photo galleries. What better way to further engage that interest by providing them with more community photos without severely tapping your resources. Put the content expansion in the hands of your audience.

In doing the latter, you're tapping into the wide swath of users who already play in the digital photo space -- using everything from fancy, expensive SLRs to the cheapest camera phones and disposable digital point-and-shoots.

Sure, we've been soliciting user-generated photos online for years. We've even published some in the paper (we should do this more, too, by the way). Our normal m.o., though, is to ramp up the effort when there is breaking news. We need a more continuous flow, especially to foster more aggressive audience growth in those wide gaps between the really big stories.

I've been participating in Photogamer. You can follow my very amateur progress on my Flickr account (I also posted about the experience here and here on my personal blog). Come join me, and spend the rest of January on Photogamer. Then leverage the experience to create a local version for February and beyond.

You could even take Photogamer a step further and turn it into a mobile-phone-photo-based scavenger hunt for a younger audience set, for example. The possibilities are fairly limitless.

I'm sure C.C. Chapman won't mind if I transmit one of his concept's here (helping you speak outside the fishbowl in 2008, C.C.!): The goal, from an editor's perspective, should be to play on the new media playground, and gain insight and experience from the endeavor. By encouraging you to participate, I am hoping you, as my audience, will not only learn from the experience, but also have fun doing it. After all, the best way to learn anything is by doing -- and doing it continuously enough until it becomes second nature.

Then pay it all forward by having fun with your audience.


Social media cuts both ways

I very much enjoyed Matt Kinsman's article about online self-promotion on a numbers of levels, not the least of which is a perspective added near the end that pertains to us as new media managers when we are hiring:

It cuts both ways—not only should potential employers be considering your online presence, you should evaluate theirs, including LinkedIn and Facebook profiles of would-be managers.
I hired Yoni Greenbaum last year after we got reacquainted via LinkedIn. He utilized that channel to network through me to follow a lead on another job, and I steered him toward my opening instead.

You'll have to ask him to confirm, but the connection definitely would not have happened had I a.) not been on LinkedIn; b.) not been connected to someone he was seeking to meet, and c.) not had additional online profiles that aided his decision-making, such as this very blog, not to mention my personal blog, and other online presences.

How many of you -- personally or professionally -- are on LinkedIn? Facebook? Flickr? Twitter? YouTube? A blog? If a talented, web-savvy candidate were considering you and your organization for employment, what conclusion would that candidate reach about your organization's Web savviness and commitment to trying new platforms and technologies?

It really amounts to a Golden Rule corollary: Portray for yourself what you might look for in potential employees.