Poynter: News Organizations Learn To Adapt In Virginia Tech Emergency | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

WAMU 88.5 : News

Filed Under:

Poynter: News Organizations Learn To Adapt In Virginia Tech Emergency

Play associated audio

The websites for the Collegiate Times -- the student newspaper at Virginia Tech -- and other local newspapers -- are back online today with news about the investigation into yesterday's shooting. But in the midst of the campus emergency, those sites shut down during traffic overloads. Reporters had to adapt as did people across the country trying to keep up with events on campus.

This is a problem that has plagued a number of news organizations during breaking news situations. For some insight, WAMU's Rebecca Blatt spoke with the Poynter Institute's Mallary Jean Tenore -- who has been reporting on how news organizations respond when websites fail.

How did the staff at the Collegiate Times react when the site went down?
The Collegiate Times online director Jamie Chung quickly created some backup plans. So the site, which typically averages about 38,000 visits per week got about 52,000 visits on Thursday, and 143,000 total views. That was far more traffic than the usually get.

The site started to crash several times, so the online director redirected the entire site to the breaking news section. When it crashed again, he created a WordPress site, which featured the newspaper's photos and tweets. The third time it crashed, he redirected the site to the paper's Twitter handle. The staffers had been tweeting updates all afternoon, so it made sense to redirect the site there.

Why can't news sites handle traffic? Is this a technology issue or a financial issue?
In many cases, it's a technological issue. In the case of the Collegiate Times, their site isn't used to having so much traffic. They ended up upgrading their server, which is an option for many news sites, so that their websites can actually handle the volume of traffic that they're getting.

Some news sites, either they're hacked, having technical difficulties or, in the case of yesterday's shooting, there's just so much information coming out of these websites -- there's so many people craving the information -- that the site just can't handle it.

Hopefully, now that there are these alternative publishing platforms, news sites can figure out new ways to use them so they can continue to produce news.

Some local papers had similar issues -- how common is this?
It seems to be relatively common. In May, PBS's website went under attack from hackers -- so they began publishing news scripts and videos to Tumblr. In April, a TV station in Tallahassee, Florida posted videos on Facebook after its 11 p.m. newscast was disrupted by technical difficulties.

So we are seeing some news sites finding alternate publishing platforms. These days, news organizations don't have to go dark when their websites go down, because there are so many free publishing tools at their disposal.

Are news organizations prepared for this kind of situation?
Some are and some aren't. The ones who are prepared are the ones who have had this happen to them before. The thing they want to think about is coming up with some sort of Plan B, and having a plan in place so when something like this does happen and the website goes down, they don't have to scramble to try and figure out what to do.

I think when websites can be transparent about what is happening, that can be really helpful. So if a website has redirected their main site to a temporary site, and isn't aware of what's going on, that can create confusion. So if they put a prominent note on the site or let their Facebook and Twitter followers know what is going on, that can be helpful.

NPR

Handmade Signs From Homeless People Lead To Art, Understanding

Artist Willie Baronet is on a 24-city, 31-day trek across the country this month, buying handmade signs from homeless people. He says the project has changed the way he views homelessness.
NPR

You'll Be Maaaaaaaad About Goat If You Follow This Chef's Recipe

Goat — it's the other red meat! And it's easy to mess up. Kenyan-born Kevin Onyona reveals the secrets to a tender yet hearty stew: You've got to break down that meat, and you've got to give it love.
WAMU 88.5

McDonnell Corruption Trial Begins Monday

It's a first for the Commonwealth of Virginia on Monday, as Bob McDonnell becomes the first governor of Old Dominion to face potential jail time.

NPR

What It's Like To Own Your Very Own Harrier Jump Jet

The Harrier Jump Jet is known for vertical take-offs and landings. It also has an accident-prone track record, but that didn't dissuade one pilot from buying his dream plane.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.