Friday, June 13, 2008

A high-water mark in crisis coverage

The staffers of the Cedar Rapids Gazette brilliantly rose to the occasion this week when record flooding inundated not only much of the city but also the very building where they work.

Resisting pleas from city officials to evacuate their downtown office, the staff produced an amazing body of multimedia work while cobbling together a generator grid that powered everything from laptops to bilge pumps. Because there wasn’t enough juice to power the air conditioning, the staffers worked around the clock in a sticky, dimly lit newsroom.

The continuously refreshed Gazette Online website presented textbook coverage, including service-oriented stories; hundreds of staff and reader photos, and dramatic video. The print edition on Friday featured a dramatic panoramic photo (below) that was played to maximum effect by running it sideways.

Steve Buttry, who joined the paper as editor in chief only one day before the floods arrived, provided the story behind the story:

In the first day after the floodwaters arrived, “the website posted 57 different story files, 453 updates, 437 staff and user-submitted photos and four videos,” says Steve. “We did our first live webcast and sent out 19 breaking news text alerts and two e-mail newsletters to subscribers.”

Amid continuing problems with power and Internet connectivity, the site served up 1.5 million page views in a day, or some 15 times the typical load.

The pressroom was not affected, becasue it is located in another part of town. But the paper put out several thousand extra copies (some to sell later as souvenirs), as well as printing the neighboring Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, whose plant was flooded out.

“A new editor pretty much has to play the hand he is dealt in terms of the staff’s ability to cover a story that is already unfolding,” writes Steve. “I was dealt several decks worth of aces.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Iowa City Press Citizen also deserves praise for their work.

My only negative comment: Both papers graphics have been lacking.

I wonder which paper will investigate the Army Corp of Engineers' role in the Iowa City flooding, which will be worse than Cedar Rapids' flooding because the Corp kept the water level at the Coralville reservoir higher to generate more fees from boat slips.

Your market-oriented government in action.

6:01 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

Kudos to the Gazette staff. Take a look at this interview with Online Operations Manager Jason Kristufek:

12:29 PM  

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