What do you do when your website crashes just as breaking news is happening?
We faced that delightful question last week, when Congressman Todd Platts announced his retirement.
We had prepared for the announcement to be that he was retiring, based on a tip, so we had a story ready to go live with one click. Just after 3:45, when our reporters at the news conference tweeted that Platts was retiring, giving us the confirmation we needed to make that story live, and our website crashed. That meant the story we had up at the time — with nothing officially from Platts — would sit there for an unknown time after he actually made the announcement.
So we published the news everywhere else. Here’s an executive summary, and the details of how it all played out that day.
- We covered the news all day on four platforms: ydr.com, Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Our planning and preparation — both in terms of reporters/photographers who are comfortable with live-tweeting events, and with editors teaming up to do live updating — made it possible.
- We’re live-tweeting as much as we can, so staffers know that’s expected. We know we have distinct audiences on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and specific strategies about how we use those social networks, so we write posts specifically for those platforms (as opposed to posting one thing across all platforms).
- When our website crashed just as Platts was making his announcement, we cranked out the news on our social media networks and let people know it was there, and updated the website as soon as it came back up.
- We understand that a lot of people are checking Twitter and Facebook streams and might not be constantly refreshing ydr.com, so we know the social networks are news delivery systems in and of themselves and we use them that way.
Here’s how it unfolded:
Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Todd Platts scheduled a news conference for 3:45 p.m. for a “major political announcement.” As we tried to find out the news, our reporter also talked to his PR person to make sure this “major” deal wasn’t Platts endorsing someone for president or something mild like that. He wouldn’t tell us what it was and wouldn’t provide a hint or tip us off. But, he said, you definitely want to be there, and it’ll be on page 1a tomorrow.
We posted a blurb online about the news conference and Tweeted and Facebooked it, and included links to our social networks where people could follow the news. I posted on Google+ a little behind-the-scenes recap of what we were doing to try to find out what was up, and asked if anyone had any theories.
Two of our Twitter followers started speculating what the announcement would be. I retweeted that to try to stoke the conversation, and put a similar post on Facebook.
Later in the afternoon we got information that Platts could be announcing his retirement. Our reporter began compiling a timeline of his career. Minutes later, Roll Call tweeted they had Platts’ retirement on the record from a state political official. I updated the story and posted it on all three social networks.
We sent two reporters and a photographer to the news conference; all were tweeting even before the event started, and the reporters live-tweeted once it began. At that point three editors split the web/social media updating: one editor took FB, one took Twitter, one took ydr.com and Google+.
That’s about when our site went down. I tweeted that it was down and that people could follow us on the three social networks. (There were also links to those networks in the story that was online at the time). We posted news updates in the comment threads on FB and G+, and kept retweeting our reporters’ tweets.
Eventually the site came back up, so we updated the story with text, art and video.
We weren’t happy — that’s an understatement — when the website crashed. And a lot of ydr.com readers probably weren’t happy either. But if and when it happens again, we’ll be publishing on as many other platforms as we can.