For the sake of breaking news, the quick relaunch of a weekly newspaper site

The site ain’t great. The coverage ain’t great. But my boss thinks I should blog about this.

We did pull off something today that a lot of newspaper staffs couldn’t do.

It shows what great tools backed by a great staff can accomplish.

In the space of about six hours, we went from a decision to migrate a site from one CMS to another, as well as fill in for a very busy local staff to get some initial coverage up of a breaking news story.

If you missed the news, Greensburg, Kansas was destroyed by a massive tornado Friday night. GateHouse Media owns the weekly paper in Greensburg and the neighboring daily paper in Pratt.

Frankly, I didn’t check any news this morning, so I didn’t know about the tornado until Bill called me at 2 p.m. But even if I had seen the news, I’m not sure it would have registered that we owned the Greensburg paper.

As soon as I got the news, I called all three members of my staff and said, “we need to move this site right now and get some coverage up.”

I just thought it would be an embarrassment for GateHouse to have such a major story in one of our own towns and have a web site that had no updates on it.

After talking to my own staff, I tracked down the name and number of our editor in Pratt. We had never talked before. He said they had staff already working on the story, but they were not set up to file stories remotely (this, he actually told to a member of my staff, not me directly). Also, the Greensburg office was destroyed and because of that, nobody had login information for the web site. This last bit of news confirmed that we needed to switch them over to Zope4Media right away.

The other limiting factor on coverage was the fact that state officials were not letting local media into Greensburg. The Pratt staff had no information beyond what we could get from Associated Press or the Weather Channel.

We got busy getting the templates ready, the DNS switched over, and writing what stories we could. is now live. The only stories are the five we produced today. If you go to any other section besides news, you’ll find we’re firing blanks. We haven’t switched over classifieds yet, or anything else on the site. We don’t even have the weather feed working yet (kind of ironic, isn’t it?). The coverage will not be mistaken for Pulitzer entries, but at least it provides some useful information for area residents.

The main thing is that over the next few days and weeks, it will be much, much easier for the local news staff to keep their local readers informed on a timely basis.

Thankfully, every member of the GateHouse family in central Kansas is safe.

And thank you to my team for making this happen.

UPDATE: Heartbreaking. Check out these aerial photos from of Greensburg.

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6 thoughts on “For the sake of breaking news, the quick relaunch of a weekly newspaper site

  1. Wow – quick and dirty and effective. You got the news out – that was the most important part. The niceities can follow. I’m glad your staff came through safely.

  2. […] Saturday, May 5th, 2007 in Uncategorized Read Howard Owens’ blogtoday. The small town served by one of his newspapers was demolished by a tornada and he managed to get a website up with the story. Amazing. He links to local blogs and UGC video posted on youtube in the first story on the site (written by him). This may be the future of breaking news and this may be a model for it. The newspaper is still the filter, but the citizen journalist is providing a lot of the material. Categories […]

  3. Kudos to Howard, Bill and the Gatehouse interactive geeks for this. They turned on a dime and did what was necessary. This little story is also a reminder about what’s important about what we do.

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