It wasn’t that long ago that a weekend call about breaking news filled me with dread. If something big was happening unexpectedly in The Evening Sun’s back yard on a Saturday (or for that matter, a Friday afternoon or Sunday), there was nothing we could do about it except wait until Monday.
Being a Monday through Friday newspaper is at once a blessing and a curse. A blessing, of course, because we can pretend we have a regular nine-to-five job and feign some semblance of a life on the weekends. A curse, because of that aforementioned 72-hour news black hole, in which larger newspapers beat us to the punch with their Saturday or Sunday editions.
My, how times have changed.
While we still only publish a print edition Monday through Friday, it’s only in the last couple years or so that we’ve come to use our website, evesun.com, to break news over the weekend. A good, and statistically best, example of that occurred last weekend. You’ve no doubt read Tyler Murphy’s behind-the-scenes account of how the murder in Sherburne played out in his column Tuesday. On my end, while my first thought used to be of the dreaded “it’ll have to wait until Monday” variety, on Saturday it was “give me whatever you’ve got, and we’ll get it online.”
That was my contribution to developing the murder story as it unfolded Saturday – getting the bits and pieces of it as they came in up on our website throughout the day. Through Tyler and Jill Kraft’s work, I’m proud to say that evesun.com was the first news outlet to release the name of the victim, then the name of the accused murderer, and the only one with a “perp walk” picture from the arraignment – all updated throughout the day as the story came to light.
Our staff “web guy,” Craig Ballinger, reports that we’ve had the strongest ever 31-day period in terms of unique visitors to evesun.com. While our Saturday and Sunday numbers dip considerably because we don’t usually update the news until Monday, last weekend was a startling exception to the rule.
It’s all part of a paradigm shift that we at The Evening Sun, and the newspaper business in general, are undergoing. We’re starting to think of ourselves less as newspaper publishers and more as information service providers. It’s a relatively slow transition here perhaps, but it’s exciting to see where the medium is headed. When I started in journalism back before the Earth had cooled, I never would have dreamed of this sci-fi computer thing called the Internet. And even as we did become aware of it in the newsroom (thanks, Dave Warren, wherever you are, for talking me into buying that first America Online membership), we scarcely had a clue that one day we’d be using it to break news to our readership, and to develop a lively online community. It seems like only yesterday that the fax machine was a rare and mysterious device, locked up in the general manager’s office with access granted to only a precious few (those rolls of fax paper weren’t cheap!).
Speaking of former reporters, I’m pretty sure it was Katie Fern who established The Evening Sun’s longstanding “No news after 3 p.m.” rule on Fridays, partly because there was nothing that could be done about it until Monday, and partly because she (and we) really enjoyed an early Happy Hour.
Traffic on evesun.com continues to grow steadily, easily the most popular website in the area, and one we’re always trying to improve. We just bought a video camera (another thing I never thought I’d see in a newspaper office), and will soon be adding video clips to augment our news, sports and entertainment coverage online. While instances like the murder in Sherburne last weekend don’t often occur (thank God), they do serve to remind us that things happen 24/7 and we can’t, and shouldn’t, always rely on the paper to get that message out. I’m pretty confident that I’ll retire from this business with a print edition on my desk, but the future is clearly in covering the news when it happens, as it unfolds, and online.
That said, unless it’s “stop the presses” news, I’d still prefer you didn’t call me after 3 p.m. today. Some traditions are worth keeping.