Note: A team from the Casper Star-Tribune will hold a conference call on Wednesday, December 12 at 11:30 a.m. central during which they will go into more detail about their coverage of the incident Ron Gullberg describes in this essay. If you are interested in joining the discussion, please contact Joanne.Phillips@lee.net or Joyce.Dehli@lee.net for the dial-in instructions.
Three days after the Casper College murders-suicide, a former Casper Star-Tribune colleague sent an email complimenting the newspaper’s coverage and remarking that it must have been a grueling work day.
My response: Until you experience a story of this magnitude, you can’t fully appreciate the added workload necessitated by digital media. However, and this is a big however, in my experience, all of the website updates, Facebook posts, tweets, retweets, story tagging, gallery entries, etc., locked me into a groove from which I didn’t emerge until proofing my final print page and heading home.
In sports, they call it “being in the zone.” You tap into your fundamental skills on instinct. You take risks and find success. You easily overcome adversity. You dictate the outcome.
One early key was Assistant Managing Editor David Mayberry applying the #cchom hashtag to our Twitter coverage. It didn’t take long for #cchom to explode in the Twitter-sphere.
One other thing you don’t think about until a story of this magnitude occurs: Post photos to AP Exchange as quickly as possible. In the first hour, I received calls from the New York Daily News, Fox News, CBS Radio News and a couple others I can’t remember. Sensing a trend, I asked photographer Dan Cepeda, who was standing by in the newsroom, to post the on-scene staff’s twitpics to AP Exchange.
In posting to social media sites and reading posts on social media sites, my colleagues and I had better command of the rapidly developing story. We chased rumors and tips, weeding out the falsehoods and hanging on to what could or couldn’t be proven until later. We flagged potential sources and tapped into the community’s emotions.
Of course, there were the usual detractors who think newspapers can’t get anything right. But, for the most part, we were complimented for being “First.Best” as the story developed.
Remember: For several hours, readers didn’t know this was a domestic murders-suicide, and they only came to know that based on rumor. For all they knew, it was just another act of random school violence. The public worried about loved ones attending or teaching or working at the school. We were their No. 1 source for information.
Within minutes of the homicide-suicide at the college, reporters Joshua Wolfson and Adam Voge and Visual Editor Alan Rogers were on the scene. They tweeted and posted twitpics, reporters and photographer alike.
Business Editor Jeremy Fugleberg manned the “digital control desk” from his work station, collecting tweets, reporters’ phone calls and twitpics for breaking news on trib.com.
Online coordinator Bill Zeiders helped facilitate anything Fugleberg needed and kept an eye on social media posts while compiling tweets using Storify. He soon created a photo gallery from the early twitpics.
After dispatching the reporters and a photographer up to the college, the editors team, led by Editor Darrell Ehrlick, put a handful of reporters on hold in the newsroom, ready to strike where the story took us.
Immediately after news broke of a body on Hawthorne Avenue, about 2 miles from the college – an hour or so after the Casper College incident was reported – reporter Kelly Byer and photographer Cepeda were assigned to the scene. Byer and Cepeda spent much of their time standing outside the police blockade. When Byer had to leave to cover a court hearing, reporter Kyle Roerink took over on Hawthorne Avenue.
Meanwhile, as the reporters and photographers worked the scenes and everyone – in the field and in the office -- partook in social media/online update responsibilities, the editors brainstormed additional next-day story possibilities and possible follow stories.
At that time, we were only working with the rumor that a Casper College instructor had been killed. We didn’t know how many suspects there were, whether one or more was at large, or whether one or more had been killed, and we didn’t know whose body lay on Hawthorne Ave.
Features Editor Kristy Gray spearheaded efforts to develop bio info on computer science professor Jim Krumm, who was rumored to have been killed.
As time went on, there were rumors that Krumm and his girlfriend, Heidi Arnold, had been killed by Krumm’s son Christopher. Gray’s team added Arnold and Christopher Krumm to their research efforts. There was also a rumor that Arnold was married and that her husband had found out about her affair with Jim Krumm, which proved to be completely false, as both were unmarried.
About noon, we decided to live stream the 1 p.m. police press conference. Online coordinator Zeiders headed up to the college with video equipment. We used UStream. There were 2,995 views. The staff back in the office continued submitting photos into our gallery.
I believe our command of the chaotic, developing story throughout the day thanks to both gumshoe reporting and use of social media allowed us to avoid jumping to any conclusions and making any embarrassing mistakes in print or online. Some on our staff even made posts explaining the stringent reporting requirements newspapers face as opposed to just any old social media rumor. Again, while there were those who asked why we wouldn’t report “the obvious,” the majority seemed to respect our professionalism and restraint. I think the Star-Tribune reached a level of credibility that won’t fade anytime soon.
As the day ended and the paper went to press, there was no confirmation from authorities about the Krumms and Arnold. But we had laid groundwork that would pay off the following day.
A next-day police press conference at 11 a.m. revealed that the rumor was indeed true, although some specifics had been distorted on social media.
Friday’s preparations made the job much easier on Saturday’s reporting team.
On a typical day, trib.com has approximately 65,000 page views. On Friday, Nov. 30, we had 510,667. The following day, we had 235,050.
On Nov. 30, we received 25,539 instances from Facebook on trib.com, according to the Omniture “Referring Domains Report.”
Initial estimates show we gained about 216 Facebook likes during the weekend. Generally, we collect about 20 likes per week.
Ron Gullberg, Managing Editor/State and Online,Casper Star-Tribune
www.trib.com | 307-266-0560
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