CHRIS: We’ll give a couple of minutes for people to make the right decision and come to our session. I’m dangerous with the microphone. Anybody wanna karaoke? Where is Greg? You should bring him down here! Welcome everyone to the post-lunch session where news will break, or we’ll all just be prepared for when it does break. My name is Chris Keller
SARA: And I’m Sara Simon.
CHRIS: And we’re here to prepare you for before breaking news breaks. We want to kind of test the hypothesis on all of you that we can be prepared for everything but the where and the when, okay? So a little more about us.
SARA: So I was gonna say, before we get into things. Who we are, Chris, who are you?
CHRIS: My name is Chris, I actually grew up here not far from here, in Wisconsin, I live in Los Angeles now. I work at the LA Times in the graphics department. Prior to that, I worked at KSBC out there where I worked a lot with wildfires that occurred. And I’ve worked with lots of newspapers of all sorts of sizes across the Midwest.
SARA: Hi, I’m Sara Simon and I’m from Portland, Oregon and I’ve kind of transitioned from the tech industry. And actually I used to live in Minneapolis for a software company and I wrote my very first lines of code at a Rails Bridge event just not far away from here. And I just finished up two and a half years at Vermont Public Radio and I start at the New York Times on Monday. So who are you? I’m going to steal this idea from the session I was at yesterday. Let me see a quick show of hands for do you work in a small newsroom? A large newsroom? Not a newsroom. And do you work primarily with code? Primarily with words, or primarily with something else? Interesting. Okay. We’re getting a variety in here. So the whole idea for these nex 75 minutes, can we be proactive about news as Chris was mentioning earlier. Chris, you were the one who mentioned this session, what was the motivation behind it?
CHRIS: So let’s define what breaking news is. It could be tragic. It could be a mass shooting. Something that we dealt with in Los Angeles and San Bernardino out in 2015, already. It can be as simple as good as a vote on a health care bill which is a recent memory. It can be something like the Oscars. It can be a hurricane, it can be a earthquake.
SARA: In Vermont it was like small-time court was accused of…
CHRIS: Well, and I’m sure all of you have similar things as to what breaking news was. I remember a breakdown of a helicopter crash. That’s huge, right? That’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about breaking news. And the hypothesis again is can we be prepared for these sorts of things and can we take steps — can we basically model the threats that breaking news represent. So if we were to borrow a term from operational security, which is keeping our data safe, keeping our email safe from phishing scams, and we borrow these from these sessions, and alter them for a newsroom when breaking news breaks. So what might I be after? Where am I most vulnerable to attack. Where are my vulnerabilities? And what are the threats that are relevant to me? I don’t think Russians are trying to hack into my email but who knows. You know, the guy down the street who I yelled at for walking his dog on my lawn might be. So we’re dabbing into these questions.
SARA: So we’re going to break it down into three ways. What kinds of background information and context should be at our fingertips? What are the roles and responsibilities that are needed and three, how can we epihad our audience understand the limits of what we’re telling them? So those are the three questions.
CHRIS: So we’re going to end up breaking into groups, all right, into three groups it kind of explore these. And if there’s enough people to break up into groups of more than one same topic. We can do that, as well.
SARA: And hypothetical questions to get the conversation started: What situations are likely to arise in our newsroom, who will be doing the work, someone who does X, what are my first reads in a given situation, what are the reads of others, which roles are critical, which tasks can wait, who on the staff is trained on what. What’s our breaking-news social media policy. Oh, shit, what’s our breaking news anything policy. When a breaking news event happens, what should be at my fingertips, are there any contacts that I can make ahead of time. Are there any resources that I can hoard away, how can my newsroom share the most important information. And finally, most importantly, how can we track what worked well for next time?
CHRIS: Do you see how fast she went through them? That’s what breaking news is like. We’re left pondering them put again, the broad talking — let’s just go with roles and responsibilities, right? The awesome thing about newsrooms and breaking news is everybody gets to get on board with health. Everybody puts all their hands on the boat, and we’re all behind oars, and we’re all rowing in the same direction. When Dave and Tiff are on both on the phone likewise, if nobody’s checking social media, or nobody is checking the standards to ideas and tips, those are missed opportunities.
SARA: Does anybody have any questions or thoughts jumping out at you right away?
CHRIS: Or experiences they want to share of what worked well.
SARA: Horror stories of breaking-news events?
AUDIENCE: Can you clarify what you mean by first reads here?
CHRIS: Yeah, so I think of it as a kind of beat oriented kind of thing. When something happens, I want to believe, and everyone can correct me if they have a different opinion, nearly every beat has a piece of that information. The transportation reporter has impacts on health, on education, on health care, or the amount of staff or resources that a hospital is going to devote to a mass shooting. So what should I be paying attention to, or who are my sores in a breaking news situation that I can go to.
SARA: I think it’s valuable also to remember that we all come to our newsrooms with our own perspectives and what might be considered breaking news for somebody might not for another. If that makes any sense. So, for example, in Vermont, we just had a — I also we missed a pretty big story because nobody in the newsroom thought it was a big story. And then we were stooped by a bunch of other papers because, sure, we found out a lot about it, but it wasn’t something that people in the newsroom had really been plugged into. And I think that’s — that can get at the first phase here, too, of, you know, what are we missing, and what perspectives are missing?
CHRIS: There’s kind of an exercise that newsroom leaders/managers can go through to identify those on their teams that are great at certain aspects. Like Sharon McNary, a reporter for KPCC, she can find anybody through phone book records, or that sort of thing. So identifying what people’s specialties are across the newsroom can go a long way to kind of helping identify what those first reads might be for an individual. Are we ready to break up?
SARA: I think so. Let’s see. Yeah, so what we’re going to be doing next is what Chris and I have found helpful when thinking about the session is crafting some how might we statements. So how might we better prepare for, how might we anticipate? Can you hit the next slide. How might we better respond to, how might we better react to. And so we’re going to start by asking you to craft these questions, and then later on, we’ll come back together to fro how might we go crafting solutions to the questions. So should we go ahead and break up the groups?
CHRIS: Like, we said, we’ve identified three groups. There’s more than enough people to double up if you want to. Some of the groups appear to be naturally gathered around their table. Others might want to combine. But yeah, we can either sign to make sure everyone is represented, or you can just pick one, and we will have faith that everyone will be discussing something different. And, again, we want to consider, through these frames, some questions, right? How might we hoard away information, or how might we gather information that could be useful given a breaking-news situation. I’m going to leave it up to you all to define what that breaking-news situation is, right? Let’s not all pick tragic things. Let’s pick some happy things.
SARA: And, again, I picked this big picture for now, how might we, totally hypothetical, let’s get creative and think about how might we better prepare for breaking news.
CHRIS: Let’s take about five minutes or so and come back and kind of engage how well we’re doing in terms of directions.
SARA: Another minute or two to finish up your statements — or questions.
CHRIS: All right. Should we… all right. Should we bring it back around?
SARA: How’s everybody doing? So all the tables feel like they’ve reached the point of coming up with some questions?
CHRIS: All right. So if anybody has a computer at their table and has access to the link that was on the front of the slides, if you’ve gone to the slides, you can find this etherpad here, where we’ve got sections for everybody to jot down questions they may have come up with. Sara and I come up with the question, how do we slow down when we talk so that we don’t overwhelming you with the information by speaking really fast? So who wants to start? Who looked at information management and considering…? Yeah?
AUDIENCE: So we looked at backend information, the effect of that on things that you’re working with was sort of something similar, so something that could be perceived in a story, we identified a number of sort of various types of information, which you might want to have either by looking at your fingertips, or being able to quickly take action and get your hands on. So some sense of your own internal archives. So what sort of things have you written about this person, or a thing in the past. Obviously, you can grab that, as well as other reporting, what else have you written in the past. We’ll look at sources, both internally. So who’s the subject matter experts within your own newsrooms. And how can you get a hold of them very quickly. As well as external resources, might you — how do you coordinate to ensure that multiple people aren’t trying to contact them. Finally some basic stuff around maps and charts, so what’s your quantitative information that you have handy in order to complete those things and list those things out.
SARA: Awesome. Did anybody — did any of the other groups cover information and background?
AUDIENCE: So we talked about a few things. Like, we talked about how there’s certain situations that you can kind of, like, set your watch by. Like, if you’re in a certain country, it’s wildfires, police shootings is definitely one that we’ve dealt here in Minneapolis, too, if you have been in this are you aware, we’ve had instances of high profile nature. We have almost a story templates, or a standard way of handling them would be wise. I also talked a bit about here also here in Minneapolis we had a — we learned some harsh lessons from the death of print. Bad story was broken by TMZ and we found out about it through the AP, and we had no idea that it happened. We had people covering those for 20 years, but we had no idea that he was doesing on methanol, and all this other stuff. And so we had to adjust who does what, and who has the responsibilities. It is to kind of look at cover all of our bases. Kind of people listening to breaking news from every conceivable angle, or where they come from.
SARA: Can I ask: Has that been a conversation of, oh, shoot, we didn’t handle that well but we have to figure out something for next time, or had there been any concrete plans?
AUDIENCE: In some ways, it seemed like kind of like a missed opportunity because like, well, who else do we know who could reach this level of celebrity here? And, you know, we have well known here but it’s like, yeah, kind of making certain that our AP people are kind of watching a little bit more closely and also we have investigative people who responds to these kinds of areas of things, the areas of the entertainment world goes away beyond this.
SARA: Any other groups that covered… yeah?
AUDIENCE: So for my particular interest, which is technology, there exists basically apps, forecasts for when we’ll see driveless cars on the road, when stem cells would be able to edit a person. And so you can use these timelines and sort of general consensus around these events to sort of plot out and map your coverage and I also talked a little bit about how you could have — you might not know the when, or the where but you probably have a good idea of what it might look like. And so if you’re visually inclined I think there’s a lot of work that you can do to prepare a story for when it breaks. So it’s not a fire or death but it is, you know, science news a breaking all the time and so it’s kind of worth the discussion and looking at.
SARA: That reminds me of, Chris, you were just telling me about the maps that you built for the gas leaks. Can you talk a little bit about that first?
CHRIS: Yeah, I found a source of GIS information for natural-gas pipelines that run underneath Los Angeles through Socal Edison, and while I kind of just like took it from them because it was a GIS file. I laid it out on a map of Los Angeles and it’s a good reference point. If there’s a large fire somewhere, or if you can get an idea of what infrastructure might be threatened, you know, by a natural disaster, it’s nice to have in your back pocket. A lot of the idea of the information management situation is acting like a reference director. It’s knowing what you have access to in the house, and knowing how to access it quickly and how to make sense of it. And a lot of it comes from missed opportunities before, saying you’re never going to get burned again, if you will.
SARA: Anybody get into roles and responsibilities?
AUDIENCE: We kind of got into that. So we didn’t cover roles and responsibilities exactly but — but — but those all go into, as we started talking about, well, ghost going to be in charge of this information, who’s going to be finding it, who is the original reporter that covered it the first time, that gets into the roles and responsibilities because you need people who know when news breaks that they’re going to be responsible for finding the background information. So that’s what I thought.
SARA: I’ll throw out a quick anecdote. I was coming from a very small newsroom and we were so excited when we finally got push notifications working. We had put so much money into it. And then we had one breaking news event and then we went, ooh, the person who knows how to do the push notifications isn’t here right now. It’s very important to make sure that people are trained and we resolved that very quickly. Training people. Anyone else cover responsibilities?
AUDIENCE: We did. Um, so we chose roles and responsibilities and our role was Beyoncé’s twins being born just to try to take a positive topic. And also because it kind of presents some interesting scenarios overall in the sense of we were thinking about, you know, how do newsrooms actually handle these news that’s relatively recently, and what we do internally for places that handled news that was interesting. But sort of an unconventional thing where it would be very easy for editors who are art news oriented to think that that’s not going to be as important as it is. And then channels are alerted to what subgroups in your audience, or just everybody, because… Beyoncé. And so, how — what was it — how might — how might we get it. So one of the things. I know we ran into it at the Times because we ran it in the public article is we couldn’t verify it for two weeks. Beyoncé was not answering any inquiries about them being born but from the Times standards, we weren’t able to answer anything. So that gave us time for the reaction and the importance and more of the cultural artifact of that event, which was, in the long run, a more interesting story but not at the pace of breaking news. So it’s a weird thing where you want a breaking news announcement but you know the story is going to come a couple days later, or maybe a week later. So within roles and responsibilities, it’s easy to understand and say, you have to have your editors understand the cultural impact of something that was news. Beyoncé would cross that bar. And trying to case and phrase something — putting it delicately, saying other sources are reporting, or so-and-so has announced his but we don’t have details and get into like how we have yet to confirm a lot of information.
CHRIS: And finally…
AUDIENCE: Audience participation part?
AUDIENCE: We actually did audience management strategies and the breaking news situation that we picked is the Olympics, we talked about since that was not impressive terribly. And so we talked about, like, knowing where Pria said that at a time, knowing where the venues were. Having maps of those things, and where to go, and building relationships with the communities that would be affected by those venues like the neighbors around them but also the businesses and the business owners, and advocacy groups on either side. And having, like, some of this stuff since it’s kind of a known event that it could happen, it’s probably going to happen. Like, how do some of these are ready to go with calmness and stuff like that. And then, also from a historical perspective looking at the last time that LA had the Olympics and how that affected the community and what might be different now.
CHRIS: Cool. Should we try and crowdsource the audience angle among all of us? Should we try and think through what can we do for our audience similar to what Tiff brought up, you know, conveying — like your hypothetical but real situation, we know this but can’t confirm. So what are the sorts of things that we can do for the audience that we can help to help convey that?
AUDIENCE: So I think one thing that we can get better about is being transparent why why we’re reporting something, or why we’re not reporting something. So if someone’s like this other news organization is saying this, and that was seven minutes ago. And we still haven’t updated anything. I don’t want to say that’s what our standards are, but just being more transparent and more conversational about here’s what we are reporting, and when, and why.
AUDIENCE: Along those same lines, I think one of the things that New York Times has done really well with a breaking news event is they put up a story that’s what we know. And it’s like seven questions, ten questions that is just like all of the questions that readers would, like, a hypothetical reader would ask, and it seemed like it was a part of the strategy because that had a — it’s a great coincidence that every time a breaking news happens, this thing comes up and it explains — it answers all the questions that I’ve ever had about an event.
AUDIENCE: And yesterday in your session, you mentioned, I think it was you that mentioned the first like non-resource that people refer to is often — and we talked a little bit about the open sharing free rights and for these breaking news stories that are, like, knowable, some of that can be prewritten and you can have a sense of like, what the — at least the Wikipedia sound room what people are looking for that they won’t have to put through.
AUDIENCE: So something I’ve found that I really liked is feeling involved with the reporting process. And I read most of the articles and I at least try to skim them especially in breaking news. Even what I have of it, or when we’re waiting for the next update, I’ll try and look and see what questions, not only what people are commenting, but what Facebook people are saying, but what people want to know, and tailor our reporting to that and try to find answers for those questions if we don’t have them, and also letting people we know, we always want photos. I’m from Eastern Washington so wildfires are a thing. And often, we just don’t have the resources to get people out to frontline of the fire. And I find really good sources first by searching for photos on Facebook and Twitter and seeing who’s commenting only and messaging them, and people are, like, so excited. They’re like, yay! Here’s my house on fire. Or here’s my house not being on fire but it’s right in the middle of it? I don’t know. These are just things that happen sometimes.
AUDIENCE: I forget what the event was, but I remember being really impressed by the Dallas Morning News visual. It was this specific visuals account. I believe there was, like, a shooting or something. And they asked what people were having a hard time understanding, which really shaped their visuals coverage. Like, I saw some of the things that people were responding to, and then I saw graphics that answered those questions. I thought it was a shooting.
AUDIENCE: It was the July 7th shooting.
AUDIENCE: Which, I was traveling internationally, and had been sleeping for several hours, and when I woke up, I was ingesting all that information but I think we sometimes do that with text but we don’t really do that with other forms of journalism and graphics are often a really easy — visuals in general are a really easy way to explain complicated things.
AUDIENCE: Did I see a hand over here? Yes.
AUDIENCE: Related to what a lot of people are saying about what we know now and how you can put that on top of a blog to give people a quick kind of update, we think it’s really interesting to maybe write through what you’re try to find out, like what we don’t know yet. And also trying to work we’re also thinking of mobile ways to make breaking news, and all live news easier to access. And one of our small dreams is sending notifications for things that we don’t know yet. So we don’t know the details of a story, but we don’t know it yet but we’re trying to track it down. And maybe it’s more of a hook. Maybe someone comes to your blog and says, okay, that’s the Times news now. But they might come back and that might also be a good way for to place and what else do you want us to find out? So that’s a place, where with he can put all together these ideas that all gel well together.
SARA: I really like that because what I’ve discovered is that I really like to know about people’s reporting process. They’re really interested in that. So I like what you said about notifications. How you doing? You want one of these?
CHRIS: I was wondering if we couldn’t do a similar sort of around-the-room sort of exercise with a couple of questions that we had come up, that weren’t really brought up. And I guess I would start with how could I share information with the rest of the newsroom in a breaking news situation? If you have practical examples as used right now for, like, the dream tool to communicate these sorts of things, we would love to know how you would go about doing this now. You know, my personal experience would be San Bernardino when you’re trying to coordinate everybody in the newsroom to share what’s happening in a very rapidly changing situation. I’m sure you all have your own examples but how have you gone through doing that.
AUDIENCE: I don’t have a specific. I would point to my colleague, Han who does more of the Times breaking news stuff, more specifically in that regard. But one thing that I have a strong opinion about, working for the last few years working on live coverage, that it shouldn’t be the magic that they turn to. It shouldn’t be something that they turn to otherwise because under high stress, most people like, like your metaphor from earlier, they jump up and row in some direction. That shouldn’t be the one time that you go into that app to do that thing. It should be in your most familiar stuff. But in terms of, like, processes for that…
CHRIS: We had an experience like that with Slack where everybody was introduced to it in a breaking news situation. Well, not everybody.
AUDIENCE: Well, I would say mostly we — the thing that we started doing a couple of years ago, which does not sound like rocket science at all, which it’s not, which is just spinning up email list so that there’s a single email list that we would start up immediately and put basically everyone’s work in. Everyone got a lot of email, but it broke through our old habits where basically each individual reporter was communicating individually with their editor but not seeing what everyone else was doing. So just even though has had to deal with a lot more nail, or if everyone’s already in Slack, that’s great. But that’s not the case at the Times. But just having everyone aware of what everyone else is doing makes a huge difference.
AUDIENCE: So on the Slack at the Wall Street Journal, we have a similar thing where if you have a breaking news situation, something happens, and someone creates a Slack news channel and everyone goes there, but it fails partly because of what you guys have been talking about which is the visuals people are already on Slack and use it, and so it’s worked really well for us where it works really nicely is dropping photos in that’s coming in over the wires and that helps everyone else who’s looking at it to jump on stuff and we’re usually writing stuff into a Google doc, and having an old news written template that works, and that works really seamlessly. But the part that falls apart are the hold-edit news editors who aren’t on the Slack channel at all. And they’re totally out of the loop and I would say normally somebody basically has to be willing to be babysit these editors because they’re not looking in the Slack channel, which is, yeah, frustrating but I think that speaks to the successes and failures to that approach.
AUDIENCE: Something I found helpful when we have the people and the ability to do it is to leave one reporter or someone at the office whose job is not to edit any stories, and not necessarily to call social media but can be just a utility person. So if there’s a reporter out in the field, like hey, I have this thing that I mentioned. What’s the day-two coverage, what are the featured stories that we want later in the week when this immediate crisis is over.
CHRIS: That day two stuff is just mathematically.
AUDIENCE: That reminds me of one other thing that we had. We did have an incredibly successful Slack experience a year and a half ago. We decided to cover every shooting in Chicago over the Memorial Day Weekend. And what we did there, one, first of all, it was a 24-hour thing. We had a ton of reporters, ton of editors flying to Chicago. We told everyone if you’re going to participate in this, you have to be in Slack, you have to learn Slack before you come out here for the weekend, and then we have someone — there was always at least one person on dispatch basically sitting in the office, several police scanners, and they were literally keeping track of where everyone was in the city, and dispatching people off. And then the Slack worked really well, though, because they might get the same, I hear about something on this corner. Something else that — it was maybe done great. Maybe I’m at the Dunkin’ Donuts, I’ll head right over, or the photographer will see that someone’s somewhere, and say hey, I’ll join you. That’s worked pretty well. We’ve not done that for any non-preplanned news situation but that worked well.
AUDIENCE: You were talking about the editors on email and visual people on Slack. But this was not idea. It was in a talk last session, is to come up with a decision log that’s automatically brought into Google sheets, or Slack, or something that’s done manually. But it’s a way for everyone to have one spot about who’s doing what. And decisions around coverage. I think it worked for coverage, but I think it worked in this situation.
AUDIENCE: One thing that I did in Slack when I was at Fusion was because reran the entire newsroom on Slack which is we actually used the emoji reactions to see what people had seen. So we would have, like, a Slack channel for the breaking news event and then they’ll be porting ideas, and then having this ongoing conversation and then every so often, the point person who’s the editor would post in the running doc of, like, here’s everything we’re working on, and who’s working on it and you would reply by using, like, the checkmarks, or, like, different emoji things, and then we could see, like,, okay? Visuals is aware this story is happening, and they’re on board, and they’ve checked it, without us having to take the time to say, I read that email, and I agree. And so we — not with the threateninged. I mean, I think threading is really stupid but you could use the same thing basically with emojis.
SARA: We had all our customized emojis of our faces and then we could take, like, items based on putting our face on it.
CHRIS: I love my threads!
AUDIENCE: At a peer agency, there was one person like the form of the blog post of we don’t know all we know stuff. They compile a big email every 24 hours or so depending on how crazy things are. Basically saying, here’s the bullet list of here are all the facts we know, here are all the things we know, here are the things that we’re chasing, here are the things that we’ve ruled out, or things that we were chasing before, but aren’t actually things. And who’s covering certain aspects of the story. And that goes out on a pretty regular basis. And so, that we had, like, a name — sometimes we’ll spin up email lists for particular events but also there’s, like, a big email news desk email. But this is consistently formatted that you know to look out for it.
CHRIS: If I could real quick, the use of emojis to track who’s responded to messages or seen them I think is a great tool but I know that in my experience it’s just a river. Information gets lost so fast. Are there any other practical tips or strategies for kind of managing that river of news in Slack, you know, when it’s all flying by?
AUDIENCE: Maybe in email, too?
AUDIENCE: So we use this on a daily basis but it’s probably most valuable during breaking news is we have a channel called inbox and it’s the equivalent of that shit’s mine. And so no one comments. It’s just all integrated into text or email. And so people full — this is where we get most of our multiple papers, most of our flow comes in through email. So anything that has been transition into the the inbox thread has been claimed and handled. And so it’s just a list of what’s being done and what’s in progress. And so it definitely stems the flow of — because no one is prattling on in that thread. It doesn’t go on elsewhere. So people are like, where are we, and then we can send them straight to that thread and they can just read down the list and know who’s on what, and what’s been handled and what’s been posted and it’s just a very neat list.
CHRIS: I think one of the other questions that we wanted to explore was to delve into the roles and responsibilities a little bit more. And from my own experience, like, we had an exhaustive list of, like, we have a lead editor and you have the social media editor and you have the shot-caller. You know, the GA sort of day-two individual. You know, what sorts of things do you have in place for acting in a breaking news situation and what sorts of ideas could be in place to make that a little more efficient or effective?
AUDIENCE: So, again, I can I can speak to what Journal does now, how it’s an open-ended sort of five or six different roles. So the idea is is that breaking news situation, you need a person in the developer role who would be deploying and uploading the project, or someone in the reporter role who’s aggregating the information. And there’s a coordinator role. And there’s a brief description of what each of these roles does. And so in the breaking news situation, you can kind of assign people roles, and there’s not always one-to-one. It’s not like a person who’s as their day job is a developer. But maybe just in this slot it makes. Everyone has to understand what sort of the architypes are and slot them based on their resources and needs.
CHRIS: I like the use of architypes. That’s a good description.
AUDIENCE: I also think you need to think about the types of stories that you’re planning on reporting. So, like, you mentioned the person that goes after the people. So going through the public databases and trying to — to suspect, especially kind of in those situations but you do kind of need to have a template for the types of stories. It’s something that you think about a lot. So if there’s a terrorist attack, what types of stories do we want to produce as sidebars and then get people to the point where then that I’m going to do the victims sidebar, I’m going to be doing the reactions sidebar so…
SARA: Anything? Can I broaden this out and think, so thinking back to the audience considerations, again, I’m coming from a very small news market and a small newsroom. And sometimes during a breaking news event, I would think how can we best complement the other local news organizations and not just all kind of tell the exact same story and I wonder if anybody has experience kind of thinking ahead to what information — working with another newsroom during a breaking news event, or even kind of thinking ahead and thinking what might — what aspect of the story might they be covering and how can we best complement that. Is this ringing any bells? I see some heads nodding but… yeah.
AUDIENCE: And this was sort of what you were talking about. But I worked for the Texas Tribune before I moved to Dallas in 2000. Before we were a non-profit, we knew we wanted to focus on politics and policy. But right when we first got started, there was a shooting in Waco and we had all come from newspapers and said, oh, there’s breaking news, we need to jump on it now. But someone said, wait a minute, we’re about politics and policy. What does the shooting have to do with what we want to cover, what our goals are, and how that fits in. And so we all had to take a deep breath and step back and say, okay, well, this isn’t our role today but what we can do is think about how what’s happened here affects policy and politics, and what are the next steps, and what can we learn for all those who are on the ground reporting about how is a legislator doing with that, or gun policies and that kind of stuff.
SARA: I like that. That’s good.
AUDIENCE: So an example from our group, I don’t know — at a JAC fellowship about a interim newsroom situation. She was telling a story about two newsrooms that geographically split up their beats. So one was near the coastguard situation and so they covered news about what was happening there. And they had sent out an email saying, we got this, we’re covering it and we have something for you, and we’ll let you know. It seemed really great and it seemed like there was a couple of examples of that happening around the country, maybe at a more local level. It seems really great.
CHRIS: Let me get the last round to the audience is, do we have a role to play for folks affected by disasters, natural disasters, find help, find people that can help them in those situations. I guess I think because I’m in Los Angeles when the huge earthquake comes and we’re all cut off from the rest of the country. Does that cross any ethical boundaries making those connections, or do we have a role to play in that in terms of helping our audience understand that, and making those connections between people.
SARA: Very quickly, I was no in Vermont during Hurricane Irene, but I’ve heard peppered stories from people saying that the radio was the only way that people hear about anything that was going on. If they could find a radio, they would know what was going on.
AUDIENCE: We had a really bad storm that cut off power for seven and 14 days. And it was really cold and people were staying in hotels. But I think we have a role to play as far as letting people know what’s available and how we can help. I think in terms of promoting individuals like GoFundMe. But I’ve never written a story about this person has been homeless forever and I get calls from six different people who want to donate to get one person. And people are going to find ways that are constructive where this is where you can drop supplies off. This is the number that you can call for spare bedroom to crash for them to sleep on. That sort of thing.
AUDIENCE: I think it’s very helpful to remember that the newspapers have long served to connect missing people. Whether it be slaves at times of war, those who are soldiers. Taking on advertisements, you know, I haven’t seen this family, I haven’t seen this person. But to that extent, you know, news organizations today aren’t — don’t hold the same broad role in — there are venues that better for that now, and I think it is — there’s no ethical problem with giving advice to our readers about — or listeners — about how do you best find people, or access to services, or, you know, advocate for donating to — or not even advocate. This is how you donate to the Red Cross. This is how you donate to this or that. There’s many ways we can help disaster or calamity without any sort of ethical…
SARA: Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: So I was on our web desk maybe 2011 in Java, Missouri when it got hit by an EF-5 tornado. 105,000 people dead and most of what I spent doing was coordinating people getting people set up where people were essentially fulfilling the same function as the American Red Cross but because of unreliable Internet access, sometimes because of momentary thing that people can do is social media posts. So we watched in real time, as people found family members, or others, like, out of town and we used it later and, like, won an award for community impact. Because it would be like, I’m at 26th and Connor, is anybody down there? And neighbors would be like, we’ll go and check. So that was my entire job that night, was monitoring and coordinating that information and since then, our company now, like, it’s a mandatory thing if you have a natural disasters that you run a section under page that’s dedicated only to resource management because if you have a ton of people who are like, we have all these clothes that we want to donate and it’s not really use of the people in the shelters, having all those people show up is a problem. And so we do a lot of resource-coordinating information pages.
AUDIENCE: I would recommend that if your newsroom is big enough and you have enough resources to dedicate one editor who is dealing with internal effects, as well. Sofa natural disaster hits, it affects our lives personally as well, and most journalists will work through it to their own detriment. And so when I was working in Alabama, we had 120 of those hit in one day, and 400 people died, and I didn’t have power for 80 days. And it was not like until day four or five that it got high enough that I was going home every night to a place that didn’t have power in what was considered a very unsafe situation. And I ended up staying, like, at my editor’s for the remaining until I got power. But we realized through that experience that all of the — that basically we started taking care of themselves. And we started day three providing food, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And we started taking note of who had power, who didn’t. Who was able to shower. But we didn’t do that at the beginning. It was when people were nearing mental breakdown to say we have to take care of each other.
CHRIS: That’s a great point.
AUDIENCE: And I think other newsrooms have done a really good job about this. I was in Boston during the Boston Marathon Bombing. And the Chicago Tribune sent pizzas one day, and the Hartford Current sent snacks. It’s just really good seeing journalists helping other journalists when they’re going through something like this.
AUDIENCE: Don’t be afraid to kick people out of your newsroom. We had tons of people, national outlets mostly show up and they wanted to help. And a lot of times what they wanted to do is use local resources for their reporting and then leave. Once I was like having a shouting conversation with another editor over, I believe it’s now the publisher at the Times. AG — I don’t know, but it was, like, the New York Times and I was hanging out at the office. They would love it! They would love it. But we had a couple of stations that, like, camped out in our lobby and my editor had finally had it and went down and kicked out, like, six or seven people because they were impeding our ability to cover our community. Don’t be afraid to kick people out.
AUDIENCE: I think one ethical demographical thing to think about, is as editors and developers in the room, we have to make sure that we can deliver on that, because you could set up a message board and say, hey,, are your relatives are okay. But if you don’t know 100% if that’s going to scale, to the people that are going to use it, that we turn around and say, sure, that was too much work. And I think that speaks to the preparation but if you know natural disasters are a thing that happen a lot in your area, like, that’s something that you can prepare for, and you can have a system that’s very robust and ready to go, rather than just putting together something quickly and throwing it out there.
CHRIS: I know that was a practical consideration when we developed the wildfires project because you shouldn’t rely on your life, or your family’s well-being on the information that we’re providing.
AUDIENCE: I also don’t think that you have to reinvent the wheel. Facebook is already doing this. Google has a crisis relief project. If other technology companies and other news organizations are doing that, I don’t think you need to — focus where you can add value and I think sometimes in these cases, that’s already happening. So you can focus on the reporting, or focus on the other things.
AUDIENCE: This is probably not a super common comment, but I know that in the wake of 9/11, the Wall Street Journal had to work out of their Princeton offices and thankfully had the backup they needed because they literally could not access their space. So, right, in any crazy event where you are kicked out of your own newsroom, it’s probably wise to have some sort of backup mechanism in place. You could do your own sort of risk profile for that but it’s a pretty far-out example. And they had it. Like, it’s amazing that they can pull it off so… I wasn’t around at the time.
CHRIS: I worked at a newspaper where the press started on fire and we could no longer print the newspaper and had to adjust there. Somewhere, there’s a picture of us in the parking lot carrying computers.
AUDIENCE: Kind of one example in Alabama we didn’t have power. We were actually given a generator by the state because they were like distributing resources and providing news to people that was considered something that they were going to use the generator for. And I don’t think — like looking back on it, I don’t think we were transparent enough about what we were given and how we were using those resources because there, we were also given gas. The entire like — none of the gas stations had gas and my car was actually left at, like, a random McDonalds that the sports editor had to come get me from. But, like, our reporters got gas from the state, or whoever distributes those things in emergencies. And I wish, looking back on it, that we had been more transparent about how we were operating. So if you’re kicked out of your own building, or your building doesn’t work like it usually does, I think in today’s age, like with social media and stuff, like, just tell people what you’re doing.
AUDIENCE: On a related note to that burning press thing, we’ve had the power go out in all of downtown Seattle and you would think that you would have a generator in the building but it’s just to turn the lights on to get downstairs. So we used that moment to get UPS boxes, power supply boxes and also hot spots, wireless hot spots that, okay, because your Wi-Fi and your network also goes down, so you just kind of have, like, this weird, external Internet source because if you don’t, you’ll find out the hard way.
SARA: This is not at all related to natural events but about at 8:07 on the Vermont primary, they decided to a code push to all the systems because it was a random Tuesday night, right? That was the first time that I call the emergency line. Why, this was connected to what I was say, this is not just physical, I remember when I was working at the New York Times and it was brought down by the Syrian National Army expect and other people were reporting what we were doing, and also at the same time it became very apparent that we didn’t have a backup plan for how you intend to do your reporting, possible possibly about yourself. So it’s like, what do you do, what’s the worst case, situation, when something like that goes down, or something like that, how do you redo that.
AUDIENCE: I just also want to add to that. You know, I’ve found at the Times, if you work in a large newsroom, or a large company or organization, there’s probably somewhere — someone, somewhere in your corporate structure who is responsible for business continuity. However, they often are not necessarily up to date on what — like you as developers need. And — ‘cause, you know, our technology is constantly evolving much faster that be the traditional systems. So, you know, at the Times, I think we still have an entire documentary newsroom out on Long Island that will put out the print newspaper really great, you know, with 1997-era computers, or whatever sitting there. But, like, reaching out to find that if you’re in a big organization, reaching out to those people. And, like, making sure that your needs are on their list, I think these are important. And then, also, if you’re in smaller organizations, making sure that you have, like, all those people whose job is to, like, sit down and spend a month thinking through, like, what is everything that can go wrong, what is the backup plan for our organization.
CHRIS: It looks like we’re coming up on 3:34. I mean, this session is over at 3:45? I guess there’s two things. One is what can we consider as a group. What’s missing. And I guess, we could just free form, like, who’s got breaking news plans, who knows how to react, what sorts of things could you take back to your newsrooms. What about this was helpful, what is it lacking, what are we missing? And I guess is there a way to share more of this information, you know, more widely outside of this group, has anybody seen any opportunities there, or are we just kind of paranoid monsters lurking in the dark, waiting for the sky to fall?
SARA: So I’ll walk out of a session and be like, wow, that was fascinating, I just had a plan for how to deal with breaking news, and then what happens next? Does anybody know? So how can we actually take these ideas and turn them into concrete findings?
AUDIENCE: One thing that hasn’t come up to be aware of. So when the bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, the cellular networks absolutely collapsed. They were so overloaded and so we found that we had to depend on physical runners for things. People actually taking information manually because you absolutely could not make a phone call. You could occasionally get a text through but you could not make a connection on the cell networks because they were so overloaded. And so we really — taking on the connections to the cell network is great, but you can’t always rely on that either. So we found that on several events even a much smaller, and we had the Women’s March we had 100,000 that we didn’t expect, turns out when you have 100,000 in any place, the cell network collapses.
AUDIENCE: Men, too, right?
AUDIENCE: There were men, too there. But we really wished — actually it was really close to the office and it would have been fairly simple to have people running back and forth for supplies and things but we relied on that and then we couldn’t get any information for a mile and a half out of it because of that. So thinking about what you do if you can’t use your cell network is also a problem.
SARA: And so we all need to train for marathons. I just ran a marathon.
AUDIENCE: So this is a thought that just kind of occurs to me is to what extent does it makes sense to, you know, we are talking a lot about about internal repercussions, what makes sense to give our audience, pre-vent like when news happens. You know, like during the elections this year, we ran into pieces when can you expect result, here’s the times. When results start coming in, here are the states to watch out and stuff. But does it make sense to do something similar to, you know, here’s what you can expect from us as a news organization in the event of a natural disaster or shooting. You know, here’s the information we’re going to be printing out. Because, obviously, if a mass shooting happens and the suspect takes their own life, you can’t give the name until it’s confirmed, there’s a whole legal apparatus. And there’s news floating around Twitter. And people are hamstrung, you know, why are they becoming a part of this? So is that an area that we can become better at just telling our audience, here’s what you can expect from us, here’s what we will know, here’s what we won’t know. I’m just going to go through that.
CHRIS: It’s an interesting idea, right? Because you say that, you know, you have like a statement or understanding, or an oath. We cannot give you information that hasn’t been confirmed by two sources, right? We cannot — you know, it’s an interesting concept and, like, publishing that on the website, or repeating it on air. I don’t know, anybody else have thoughts on that?
AUDIENCE: I can take some examples from our newsroom and what we do with police-related shootings. Specifically after the Demafar shooting in 2014, we started our own database of were they armed, were they not armed, like, what was the situation? What area did it happen, latitudes, longitudes, and all the little factoids that you would want to know about a shooting after it happened and put it in a central place and so we’ve been training our audience by every time something like this happens, like, look at this database and this will be updated as we go, and as we find out more information and we’re flushing it out, it’s provided by Google spreadsheet by reporters we know, and it’s populated as they learn more information.
AUDIENCE: Just — it goes without saying but I’m going to say it. It’s helpful to own the beat that it happens in. So if you own the beat that it happens in, you’re prepared for the event.
AUDIENCE: Something I’ve been doing a lot with thinking about and working with breaking news and kind of being transparent is that a lot of journalism awards are given to news organizations for breaking news, which, I think, creates a really complex element of — that we’re winning awards for someone’s worst day. Which happens, like, a lot in journalism. That’s something that we can’t get away from. But I would be interested in seeing being a little more careful and transparent about, like, taking that to heart. Like, you win — like, the people who won Pulitzers for the Boston Bombing, or the shooting, or things that devastated communities. Like, yes, you did your job and it’s super important and we’re so proud of you. But I always wonder, if we bring it up again, when we don’t win an award, how it impacts the community.
AUDIENCE: I can kind of speak to that a little bit. I was part of our graphics coverage during the San Bernardino shooting. And, like, a couple — and I think it was, like, four or five days that it had happened, I was, like, asked to build a page that, like, took you through all the police calls and, like, I was feeding the news that the reporter got the day of. And at that point,, I mean, I’ve only been there for, like, six months, so I felt like I wasn’t really in a position to know, but looking back, I wish I would have pushed a little harder because I knew that it was not necessary. And it’s just like these raw calls of police, too. And there are other officers and a lot of the information is wrong and I knew it was wrong because it was five days later, and it was just like raw, these officers that, maybe it was one of the worst moments in their lives and we won a Pulitzer for it and the money ended up going to San Bernardino which made me feel a little bit better but I think that’s a really good point and I think we should all be more cognizant about it just because you have all this, like, information. You don’t need to put it all out there, you know?
SARA: How are we doing?
CHRIS: Good. I think there’s five minutes left. So I think we can take the extra five minutes to stretch our legs or whatever. Thank you so much. We brought up scanner traffic. But we all know what to do with scanner traffic. Thank you all so much for your ideas, we’re going to take the transcript and add them back to the etherpad.
SARA: I was going to remind, there’s the etherpad.
CHRIS: And I don’t know, if you want to leave your name and your contact information, we can send you a note when things are kind of compiled and, hopefully, it’s going to provide you some information to take back to your newsrooms or to reinforce to sing that song in front of your peers and editors.
[ Applause ]