Thursday, April 26, 2007

How the Roanoke Times covered the VA Tech shooting online

Web servers go down all the time when you get too much traffic in too short a time. If this happens because your latest story wound up on the front page of digg, it's probably not the end of the world. But if readers are flocking to your site for the latest information on a national tragedy, that's another story.

One of the closest newspapers to Virginia Tech is the Roanoke Times. While many people turned to the student run Collegiate Times website for news, the Roanoke Times website was also hammered over the course of the week. Now, in a blog post, the paper has detailed the steps it took to deal with the breaking news and the high traffic volume.

What I find most interesting is how quickly the paper was able to change its strategy. For example, within a few hours of the shooting, the paper set up a message board for readers to share their thought. Soon after, they started to receive complaints about inappropriate and vulgar comments. So they turned to Legacy.com to set up a guest book that would be monitored and hosted off-site.

Legacy was already the paper's online obituary partner, so they had a preexisting relationship. And when they realized that they didn't have the manpower to monitor the message board, they outsourced it. This also helped relieve some of the traffic on the website.

The paper also removed much of the non-essential information from its index file (including advertising for a while) in order to ease the server load. Overall, it looks like an excellent response, and should lead many other newspapers to ask the question, what's your web strategy in the event of an emergency?

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