Just putting the finishing touches on the Reformer's special sub-site dedicated to the Strolling of the Heifers event, coming up this weekend. The site will be linked to a QR code, which I'll make sure to run in upcoming issues of the print edition.
Given that this event draws people from all over the country, my ultimate goal is that visitors from, say, New York city, in Brattleboro for the first time, will see the QR code on the front page of the weekend edition and scan it with their smart phone, thereby having access (in the palm of their hand) to a full weekend schedule, coverage, photos, etc.
I can already see other ways to improve on this next year (there just wasn't enough time to pull it all together this time around).
I've been re-building a site I first put together last year for our Strolling of the Heifers coverage -- a compilation of our coverage, press releases on the event(s), photos and videos from years past, as well as social media tie-ins. Here's a preview:
You can find the site here: www.Reformer.com/Stroll.
[Here's a piece I wrote about the local talk radio host I spend part of my Tuesday mornings with for the past five-plus years.]
BRATTLEBORO -- It was a beautiful, sunny and warm spring day as I pulled onto Williams Street and toward the WKVT studios and offices. A Tuesday, I was preparing for what would be my last appearance on Live & Local with Steve West, marking the end of an almost six year experience of talking to West -- and his many listeners -- for an hour a week, about local news and the journalism industry at large.
And while much of those conversations kept to the topics of the day (or previous week), West also made time to pick my brain about personal tastes, music and family matters.
On Friday, May 10, at noon, West will sign off for the last time as host of the show, marking the end of a seven-year stint as Windham County's only local talk-radio personality, and one of only a handful around the state.
Born in New Jersey, West lived in several big cities along the East Coast before finally settling in Vermont. During his five-plus decades, he enjoyed careers as a professional musician (playing with the band Miracle Legion and sharing the stage with many stars of the ‘80s music scene) and in the mental health field before an offhand comment secured him a spot on the local airwaves.
"Well, I started in May, 2006," West said during an interview on Tuesday. West said that after WKVT had switched from conservative to progressive radio, he began advertising his computer repair business (Fearless Computing) with the station.
"Next thing I knew, the host of their local talk show ("Your Show with John O") was leaving, and I jokingly said to Fish (aka programming director Peter Case) ‘Let me know if you need a new host.' He pushed me a little on that and, the next thing I knew, I had agreed to it."
At first, West shared the show with Audrey Garfield, but when she left to run for the Brattleboro Selectboard, West continued five days a week, from 9 a.m. to noon.
When asked to describe his show in one word, West could only say "verbose."
[I was able to track down several local folks this afternoon/evening, and also compile some local reaction via social media. Here's a Brattleboro-angle on the Boston Marathon explosions.]
BRATTLEBORO -- “It was chaos. No one knew what to do or where to go. ... The scope of the tragedy is unfathomable.”
That’s how Brattleboro resident Nancy Heydinger, who had finished the race just minutes before an explosion shook Boylston Street and the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Monday afternoon, described the scene.
Heydinger, executive director of the Vermont chapter of Girls on the Run, was in Boston to run the race with her daughter, Caroline, a student at Georgetown University. It was Caroline’s first attempt at running the world-famous marathon.
“It's unbelievable,” Nancy Heydinger told the Reformer on Monday night, safe at her home. “Caroline and I ran the marathon. And I knew she'd be well ahead of me, s we made a plan to meet at the family meeting area.”
Nancy Heydinger finished the race at about 2:35 p.m., and was going through the motions after crossing the finish line (cooling down and taking fluids), when she heard the blast.
“I was in the finish line corral. As soon as I got my blanket, we heard a really loud explosion. I could see the smoke. ... Then there was another one.”
And, just like any parent, her thoughts immediately turned to her daughter.
“I just started running to find Caroline.”
She made her way to family meeting area and Caroline was there, waiting, just like they’d planned. Like many in the immediate moments following the blasts, Nancy said her daughter didn't know what was going on.
The Heydingers were two of of a handful of Windham County residents who traveled to Boston for Monday’s event. In all, more than 100 Vermonters took part in the race.
Other Windham County residents running in Monday’s marathon included Bob Parks of Brattleboro and Nicole Freeman and Suzanne Heller, both of Putney. All are believed to be safe.
Late Monday afternoon, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Vermont had offered help to Massachusetts law enforcement in the aftermath of the explosions.
“Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who lost their lives or were lost in today’s explosions,” Shumlin stated in a release. “It is heartbreaking that what started out as a festive sporting event for thousands, including many Vermonters, turned into a tragedy.”
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, echoed the governor’s sentiments in separate statements.
“The Boston Marathon is one of the greatest sporting events in the United States,” Sanders said. “What happened today is a tragedy beyond words.”
With cell service interrupted, authorities were encouraging runners and spectators to contact loved ones via text messaging. To reach as many as possible, many took to social media to share news of their well-being.
“My cell phone is broken,” wrote Heidi Westover, a runner from Walpole, N.H., on her Facebook page. Westover was also running in Monday’s marathon. “(We) are home safe. We are praying for everyone down in Boston. What a terrible thing.”
Within minutes, Nancy Heydinger said, “we had a zillion texts ... that’s why we put it on Facebook.”
David Evans last year moved to Dummerston from Boston. He said he’s stood “in the exact spot of the finish line blast many, many times over the years.”
“(I’m) thankful for Facebook,” Evans posted on the Reformer’s page. “Every few minutes a friend checks in to say they are OK. (I’m) feeling huge waves of relief alternating with sadness and anger, over and over ....”
Locals Patrick and Maggie Lapan had traveled to Boston to watch the race. Patrick’s daughter, Grace Freeman, posted that she and her mother were several hundred yards from the explosions.
“They shook the ground,” Freeman wrote. “It was a terrifying and surreal experience, followed by hours of uncertainty since our loved ones were still on the course ... We stayed on Boylston for hours, waiting to hear from them -- which makes me shudder when I hear of the additional explosives found. Understandably, the phones were jammed to prevent remote detonation but this added to the confusion. Our family feels incredibly lucky to escape this shaken but unscathed and are thinking of those who weren't so fortunate.”
Bellows Falls resident Jennifer Tolaro-Heidbrink said she and her family were watching the marathon very close to the finish line.
“About 16 minutes before the explosion,” she wrote, “we decided to have dinner in the Prudential. We heard a loud explosion and people were running by the restaurant. It was the scariest thing I have ever experienced! We had no idea what really was going on and where we could be safe.”
Nancy Heydinger echoed that sense of chaos in the aftermath of the explosions.
“We were removed from that area. ... People didn't know what was happening.”
However, she also had high praise for the response she observed by emergency personnel.
“One thing was evident, emergency services were so amazingly reactive,” she told the Reformer Monday night. “Within seconds ambulance, police and firefighters were rushing to the scene.
“We didn’t know what was happening, but emergency services were all over the place immediately.”
[Note: Tomorrow I will blog about how coverage like this comes together on deadline.]
Over the past few weeks, I've begun making some subtle changes to the Brattleboro Reformer website -- Reformer.com.
First some context: When I first began at the Reformer, I knew the most important thing we had to offer readers was good, well-written, local news. That mission has never changed. And so, that was where the focus was in my thinking of what we offered online.
Now, that focus hasn't changed. But, in this day of paywalls and online subscriptions, etc., I know it's important (for any newspaper) to re-think what it has for online offerings. Here in Brattleboro, I'm lucky that we have access to national content via our family of newspapers (via MediaNewsGroup and Journal Register Co. and under our joint Digital First Media banner).
So, to that end, folks will begin noticing many "new" places to find news at Reformer.com -- most notably (at the moments) under our national and international subheads (which now feature news from our various sister sites around the country and beyond) as well as much-improved regional pro sports coverage under our sports subhead (with feeds dedicated to the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins).
I"m most excited about the pro sports coverage -- if you click on the feeds not only do you get the news of the day, but I've also included a Twitter feed so you can get the latest news and reactions from the online world.
While on his way to work Monday morning, one of the reporters witnessed a serious car accident on Interstate 91. He called in to the newsroom to make us aware of what happened -- so we were able to post a traffic alert and breaking news online -- and to let us know he was on the scene covering the news.
Let me stop the story one moment to reiterate the most important rule for any journalist: ALWAYS BE PREPARED. That once meant having a pen/pencil and pad to take notes, but these days that means having a camera, digital audio recorder, perhaps a video camera ... and if you're lucky enough to have a smart phone or tablet device, then you'll have all those tools in one (plus be able to do your own online posting if you can get a wireless or cell signal -- not as easy as you'd think in rural Vermont).
I applaud this reporter for having the wherewithal to stop and talk to witnesses and take notes at the scene; unfortunately he was without camera.
As for the evolution of this coverage: as mentioned above, within minutes of the phone call, we were able to put breaking news together via the reporter's phone call and some information from the scanner. After that, you typically have to wait until police investigating at the scene issue a press release. In this case, that release came late Monday night, and so the story which appeared in print was able to be updated online (including the driver's name, condition and possible cause of the crash -- in this case speed and alcohol). After that, the only thing left to do is follow-up on the driver's condition. Again, in this case he was transported to Dartmouth Hitchcock with possibly life-threatening injuries.
So the three lessons learned today: reporters should always be prepared to cover news; the people responsible for publishing that news need to make sure it's right before going live -- if you don't know, say so; and after the immediate news (a road closure due to accident, for example), make sure to keep following up on the news (people who witnessed or read about the story want to know the driver's condition, even if he's not local).
[THURSDAY UPDATE: When the reporter called the hospital Thursday morning, the man in this accident was being wheeled into surgery.]
Late Sunday night, along with many parents of students in the Brattleboro-area school system, the Reformer newsroom learned of a security issue schools would be dealing with on Monday morning.
That news reached parents late Sunday night in the form of an automated calling system. By the time the newsroom learned of the calls, it was past print deadline. The night editor called me at home, and we discussed possible coverage for several minutes.
There were several questions: Who could we reach late on a Sunday night? A town official? A school official? Surely the police ...
We reached out to the police, but the only information we could get was that "this was the schools' decision" and that they (school officials) would be the ones to answer any questions.
By this time, there was already several concerned posts on the Reformer's Facebook page asking for more information.
Knowing there was little to no information to be had (which is sometimes the case with any news story), I made the decision not to fan the flames of concern. Independently, day editor Bob Audette acknowledged the calls went out via a Facebook post.
Early Monday morning, people continued to post on Facebook throughout the night, frustrated at the lack of available information. Consider some of these posts from readers throughout the day:
"They wanted to sound like they were on top of things but with all the vagueness all they did was cause a mass panic. The kids are all scared and nobody wants to send them to school today."
"Very disappointed in the lack of info! These are our children!!!! This is why scary things can happen! All threats should be taken very seriously!"
"I appreciate that the schools and police are doing what they can to keep our kids safe in school. That said, they knew about this on Friday, sent the message on Sunday NIGHT, and released no details that might empower parents to make safe decisions for their children. I think our educators are amazing and dedicated people, but I think the WSESU and the authorities handled this appallingly poorly. Shame on them."
"Hopefully by morning the town officials/law enforcement will have enlightened us AND the media as to what the hell is going on ... They need to make any information they have public ... Just having the schools call parents with this little information is enough to put the whole county into panic ... If there was in fact a threat made then the schools should have been canceled ... We can't risk the safety of our children..or teachers or anyone for that matter."
I immediately got to work collecting any information I could -- on the call, the background, from officials. By 6 a.m. I was able to listen to one of the calls online and post a transcript, along with a brief statement from Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Ron Stahley from a local radio station and the comment from the night before from local police. By 9-9:30 a.m., the town had issued a press release. The WSESU office confirmed Stahley was visiting local schools and talking to officials all morning.
Various pieces of the puzzle continued to fall into place throughout the morning, until a reporter arrived in the newsroom and I was able to have a brief meeting to share all I had learned, and offer guidance on how to proceed throughout the rest of the day. By Monday evening, our full coverage was live online at Reformer.com.
Before leaving the office, I answered a few questions from the reporter on how we chose to handle coverage over the previous 12 hours or so:
The late notification also impacted how the threat information was disseminated in other ways. Reformer Editor Tom D'Errico said he decided to initially post the news on the newspaper's less-formal Facebook site while waiting for more information before publishing updates in the printed edition.
"We were trying to be very sensitive when this news first came to light Sunday night in the newsroom. Above all, we wanted to be able to provide information in context," D'Errico said. "Aside from the robocall parents were already receiving, no other officials were available at that time."
Whether it's a situation like today, a possible fatal accident, or perhaps vague reports of a shooting at well-known local hotspot, local news organizations had a responsibility to avoid reporting rumor, share news and "get it right." With the increased use of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, there's a constant pressure and demand to report the news faster. These tools make that possible, but at the same time it's our responsibility, as professional journalists, to continue following the rules that made us trusted sources of local news to begin with.
There few things editors and other headline writers love more than puns and alliteration. Anything that will grab a readers' attention. That said, it's pretty easy to go too far ....
Consider the controversy late last year when the New York Post ran a photo of a man who had been pushed into the path of an oncoming subway train. (See the front page, here.) The headline read: "Doomed," with a headline of "Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die." Certainly eye-catching; definitely controversial.
Much less serious, but in the same vein, a headline in the January 18 Brattleboro Reformer, about the local Pizza hut going out of business this past week. The headline: "Another one bites the crust."
As one reader posted on Facebook, "Kind of a terrible pun to attach to the loss of 15 jobs. Just saying...."
While creative, it's probably not the most sensitive way to present the fact that 15 local people just lost their jobs. Especially when you consider the fact just days earlier we ran a story about the local Food Co-op laying off 11 (seasonal) workers, and played it fairly straight. When you juxtapose the two, something doesn't quite add up.
In the newsroom, it's in our nature to make things more eye-catching. But I take great care (and pride) in not pushing too far toward sensationalizing the news. So I'm grateful to the readers who took the time to offer feedback.
In a recent blog, Digital First Media's Digital Transformation Editor Steve Buttry declared all journalists should stop using the phrase "alleged victim."
"I want to call on all journalists and news organizations to stop using the term “alleged victim,” especially in stories about sexual abuse (almost the only type of stories where it appears). ... You want to know why? Here’s the second definition of “alleged” at Dictionary.com: doubtful; suspect; supposed. And here’s a fact about victims of sexual abuse: Their stories are almost always credible. So, in most cases, alleged victim is not only insensitive, but inaccurate."
I would be the first to admit that the word alleged is overused in most all of our police and court reporting, partly as a policy, partly to cover our tails as we report what could be construed as pretty inflammatory stuff about people based on police and court files.
I’ll grant that we need to listen to lawyers and avoid identifying a victim prematurely (not a problem in crimes such as murder or robbery, when it’s clear that crime happened and only the culprit is in doubt; in most sexual abuse cases, either one specific person did it or he didn’t, so identifying a victim kind of says he did). ... But we also should avoid casting doubt on victims of crimes (and nearly all turn out to be true victims; even in cases where the defendant gets off, that’s often because of the difficulty of meeting the high reasonable-doubt burden, not because the person wasn’t a true victim).
Buttry lays out his case, and invites instead use of the word accuser.
I guess I'd have to give more thought before changing a long standing policy, but I'm curious to hear reactions from regular readers, too.
Just about two weeks until elections, and we have several candidates scheduled to stop by the Reformer offices before then. All of these interviews will be streamed live (at Reformer.com), and we'll present questions from you, when requested, to the candidates (probably via our Facebook page. All of the interviews can be found on Reformer.com and at our YouTube channel. Here's who's stopping by and when:
-- Jack McMullen (for attorney general); Oct. 22 at 3 p.m.
-- Emmet Dunbar (for Vt. House rep); Oct. 23 at noon
-- Beth Pearce (for teasurer); Oct. 24 at 1 p.m.
-- Ed Stanak (for attorney general); Oct. 25 at 1 p.m.
-- Cassandra Gekas (lt. gov.); Oct. 25 at 2 p.m.
-- William Sorrell (attorney general); Oct. 29 at 1 p.m.
We're also hoping to get Gov. Shumlin to stop by one last time before Nov. 6.
That's all for now ... Not bad for our first "season" of livestreaming.