Here are some notes about roanoke.com’s coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings:
Traffic: Our traffic on Monday after the 9:40 e-mail was sent surged to some of the highest levels we’ve ever measured. We had to work with our Internet Service Provider and our traffic monitoring software vendor to relieve overloaded Web servers and keep the site functional. We also removed a lot of pieces on the roanoke.com index page (including ads for a while) that would have otherwise hindered the page’s load time. Still, there were times when the site was inaccessible.
How we updated the story: For past breaking news events, we adopted a blog-style format that featured time-stamped updates. We adopted that format quickly and used it for the remaining week. Traffic to that page surpassed 250,000 page views on the first day and remained high throughout the week. (Note: The Poynter Institute discusses this format in more depth.)
Help from outside: As we struggled to keep the site live, we realized that video in the works for Monday afternoon would likely have crashed it for good. Our sister site at PilotOnline.com came to our aid and provided us with server space for the video storage. This proved to be a huge help for us, especially as footage shot by the Swedish students hit the site on Monday afternoon. The Pilot lent another hand later in the week by providing two Web producers who came to Roanoke and helped with the production process. We also had a videographer from HamptonRoads.tv at our disposal to provide additional video.
Legacy.com: In the first hours of the shooting news, we had created a message board for users to discuss the event. We were quickly told by other users that inappropriate and vulgar comments were being added to it. We pulled the board. Our online obituary partner, Legacy.com, provided a guest book for all of the victims, which would be monitored, hosted and maintained by them. Providing that link allowed for discussion of the shooting and gave users the chance to express their condolences and grief for the victims.
Multimedia: Our multimedia editor, Seth Gitner, spent the better part of the week on Tech’s campus. He teamed up with a reporter to find video stories and get them produced on the same day. Seth overcame a multitude of problems, related both to hardware and software, to put together some nice pieces on the Collegiate Times staff, high school students offering hugs and support around Blacksburg, and an audio gallery on the media in Blacksburg. Photographers Sam Dean and Josh Meltzer also produced some nice audio galleries. By Friday, we had a multimedia index page to showcase the work that had been produced.
Through it all, in both print and online, we’ve tried to approach a very difficult topic with sensitivity and respect. As was discussed and e-mailed around the newsroom, the world and national media will eventually leave. But this news organization is a part of the community and we had to make every effort to get it right.