Kirkwood High School went on lockdown for an hour on Jan. 16 after the school’s principal announced there was a suspicious person on campus but there was not any imminent danger. It was later revealed that the man at the school office was a reporter for KSDK-TV in St. Louis, which was investigating school security procedures. The station management apologized for causing the lockdown.
Students at The Kirkwood Call reported the story online immediately through social media. Their initial post to the website included an audio clip of the voice message that had been sent to students’ homes. The Call staff followed up with updates after an interview with the principal and as new information was discovered.
Antonia Akrap, Print Editor for The Call, said she and her peers reported the story as soon as they could talk with authorities and verify facts. She wanted students to know what they deserved to know.
After the staff at the TV station apologized, a Call writer scolded the station for causing problems at the school in light of recent school violence.
The Call staff used the platform available at the time — the comprehensive website and social media — to inform the community. As a result of their coverage, the site experienced a dramatic spike in traffic, which at peak, was more than 17 times their typical page view numbers.
The paper is published every three weeks, so without the website, the developing story would have been old by the next issue.
Akrap said social media was essential, too. “We used Facebook a lot with this. We got a lot more feedback from parents through Facebook.”
She also said the staff’s passion and enthusiasm was fueled by adrenaline. The experience was great.
“We noticed how much better the writing is when you’re really impassioned,” she said. “When you really care about what you are writing about — in Web or print — you’re going to be a lot more proud of it.
What did The Call staff do right?
- Online first. They had a plan in place for breaking news and thought first about the website and social media. Those tools had been established, so when it came time to use them, the staff knew what was available.
- Regular updates to the same story page. The same link would be sent via social media, so The Call staff just posted updates atop the older news, labeling each with the time. Keeping the previous posts allowed transparency and avoided constant rewriting.
- Widget placement with an ad. The story page contained a sidebar with an advertisement, so the staff captured the revenue associated with a significant increase in visitors to the site. A visitor typically must see an ad several times before clicking or making a purchase, so place ads on home and story pages for maximum effect.
- Divide the team. Akrap recommended that editors need to communicate when it comes to who’s covering each aspect of the story — who is on the story to interview, to check facts and to post stories.
- Build the audience. “Advertise the heck out of your social media and website,” Akrap suggested. “Students deserve to know. They’re not going to know to go to website or Twitter if they don’t even know it exists. Make your Web presence known. We’re lucky there. Our web presence is very prominent.”