TBD’s big moment and a view from behind the coverage

I hate these long gaps between posts as much as you do. I’ve been busy over at TBD, but I haven’t forgotten about the old ZJ.

I have a couple of other posts in the works, but a bit of a recap. Last Wednesday, Sept. 1, was a big day for TBD – and for me personally. When a gunman burst into the Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring and took three hostages, we sprang into action and, in turn, were propelled into the spotlight for the first time since our launch.

It was my first real breaking news situation since starting at TBD – and the first I’ve ever experienced in a TV newsroom. Within minutes of hearing from a TV reporter’s wife (who works at the Discovery site) about the situation, we had a helicopter and live reporting on-scene. You don’t get helicopters at the Cincinnati Enquirer, so that was pretty mind-blowing.

Within minutes we were getting in photos and eyewitness reports from Twitter. We were streaming video online before anyone else – heck, it was even used on other news sites in our area. As things were confirmed, I was able to tweet them out ASAP. I had a lot of back-and-forth communication going on with our staff, some of our blogger partners on-scene and other eyewitnesses on Twitter (a few we even got to talk live on-air). In short, it was an amazing time to be behind the Tweetdeck.

We sent 21 tweets on the situation that day. According to the Bivings Report, we were mentioned/re-tweeted 334 times. We got more than 400 new followers, a boost in web traffic – and a lot of wonderful praise from our audience and peers. My favorite tweet was from Justin Karp:

@TBD is having their CNN/Gulf War moment right now. They’re dominating coverage right now. Kudos.

All that praise and warm fuzzies aside – it proved once again that monitoring and using Twitter in breaking news is increasingly important for any news operation. Twitter “broke the story”, we all know that – and for better or worse it owned the coverage in a lot of ways. We in the news media can only engage the best and stream the rest when something like this happens in such rapid-fire succession. It was a day of lessons for us and every media outlet, I’m sure.

In the days afterward, I was working with others to determine who wrote that first tweet from the building and when it was sent, not only to give them credit, but also to see just how far behind we were. We had our first tweet out at 1:33 pm, about 20 minutes after the first tweet we found. We can do better – and next time we will.

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