Cold Processes Of Covering Breaking News Stories

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This fascinating animated graphic by Chris Ladd shows how the front page of The New York Times‘ website handles the coverage flow of a major breaking news story – in this case the Orlando shootings. News desk senior editor Steve Kenny explains how it went down early on the morning of June 12th, 2016:

We knew from the beginning that this was going to be a significant story worthy of homepage play. But how much play? How big a story? It took eight hours before we knew the extent of the slaughter.

Most of our early news came from the Orlando Police Department’s Twitter feed, which, at first, just warned of a “Shooting at Pulse Nightclub on S Orange. Multiple injuries. Stay away from area.”

That post — and one from the club’s Facebook page that urged customers to get out and “keep running” — were the basis of our first story, which was five paragraphs long. We put it in the second position of what we call the “A column,” on the left side of the homepage. It went up at 5:11 a.m.

The story grew and was republished one paragraph at a time but remained in the second-lead spot until about 6 a.m., when the police reported that the shooting was a “mass casualty event.” At that point, we made the decision to move it into the lead position, but with a one-column head rather than a banner. We still didn’t have any specifics about what “mass casualty event” meant.

The story went from a one-column head to a banner at about 7:30 a.m., after the police held their first press briefing and announced that “about 20” people had been killed and 42 wounded.

The display remained pretty much the same for several hours. We still only had one story, but a live-blog and photos deepened the package. By noon, we knew about 50 people had been killed, and plans were put in place to give it a super-banner display stretching from one end of the homepage to the other.

The following day, we decided our most powerful image would be a simple grid of the victims’ photos. Lance Booth, one of our digital photo editors, put together grids of nine people each that we rotated in and out of the photo spot.

More on the process here.

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