In news, tragedy can breed innovation

In news, tragedy can breed innovation

A newsroom is an invigorating place, but the peak of that feeling often stems from tragedy.

Colorado, in recent months, has seen a fair share of tragedies. The most recent, the abduction and murder of a 10-year-old girl named Jessica Ridgeway, is still developing.

As awful as that story is, Jessica and the people seeking justice in her name deserve to be respectfully chronicled. To that end, I created a special page at work and have updated a timeline each day.

The timeline, embedded below, uses a free tool called Timeline JS. I bookmarked a link to Timeline JS many moons ago but this was the first time I thought to use it.

The tool requires a spreadsheet listing the date and time of each event, a title, a summary and a link to the media for each entry. It seemed daunting at first, but turned out to be very easy to deploy.

Another example of tragedy breeding new ideas this summer was the behind the scenes tours I did in KKTV’s studios during the Waldo Canyon Fire. They were surprisingly well received, but were nothing I had planned in advance. It was simply something I had to do to help fill a few moments in the midst of a tragedy so that my anchor on set could get a drink of water.

Although it wasn’t new technology, that tour was the first time we had actually deployed Skype video during a live segment on television there.

The Waldo Canyon Fire also highlighted for me some of the ways I could’ve kept better organized, prompting me to work on a template designed specifically for the organization of a newsroom. A later version of that tool was later deployed at KKTV.

On the flipside, the news cycle will also occasionally generate an event that beg for innovation but don’t require tragedy.

When Denver hosted the first 2012 presidential debate, for example, my colleagues and I were presented with a challenge of making our coverage stand out. In this case, we opted for a multifaceted approach.

We created several new web pages centered around one debate home page. That page gathered the best of our stories, videos, social media and traffic information, since a large area of the city was shut down as a security precaution.

On another page, I used Storify to chronicle the social media coverage of the debate. I sourced from a variety of platforms and individuals. That Storify, I think, is the best work I did to describe the feeling of the debate in Denver.

We also created a third page to collect just the debate-related tweets. This tool was incredibly useful internally in monitoring the coverage from our crews and also for keeping track of the tone of the larger audience around the world. Creating that page turned out to be prescient.

Media critic Howard Kurtz tweeted that before the debate had even started, “there have already been more tweets about #DenverDebate than all the debates in ’08.”