Tacoma schoolkids were out of class last week, but members of our news staff were gaining an education.
The Tacoma teachers strike was the biggest news story in town, struck a chord across the state and made the national news. Readers beyond Tacoma are relating to the job action as taxpayers, parents, educators and workers struggling to stay afloat in this tough economy.
To fully cover this important story, we enlisted reporters from around the room, employed the latest technology, and communicated with readers in new forums. The story ran all week at the top of our front page and the center of our website. It captured the attention of social media and likely garnered more online comments than any story we’ve covered.
The TNT has one full-time education reporter, Debbie Cafazzo, who leads our coverage. (I made the mistake Friday of calling Cafazzo “tireless.” She’s working very hard on this story, but I think she’s beginning to get tired.)
Cafazzo’s experience, knowledge and sourcing allowed her to push beyond the daily news to write about how Tacoma teacher salaries compare with those in other districts and why teacher transfers are such a sticking point in these negotiations. TV news is good at showing the picket line, but rarely takes the time to explain all that’s behind it.
Readers also were hungry for up-to-the-minute reports on negotiations, court action and school closings. That’s more than a one-woman job. On Monday night, East Pierce County reporter Sara Schilling reported from district headquarters while Cafazzo covered the teachers’ vote at Mount Tahoma High School. Columnist Peter Callaghan pitched in to “tweet” live from the scene. The team sent frequent updates to the website – prompting breaking news email and text alerts to readers – and wrote stories for the next day’s newspaper. Military reporter Adam Ashton took over the next morning, sending 6 a.m. updates from the picket line.
This story seems well-suited to the Twitter social media platform, which lets a user send short tweets to thousands of followers. On Tuesday, Callaghan (@callaghanpeter) tweeted minute-by-minute quotes and observations from the courtroom, making readers feel like they were sitting there next to him.
While we were updating the website regularly, it still didn’t reflect the pace of our news gathering, so we added a Twitter window where readers could watch the rapid-fire postings. Thenewstribune.com averaged 76,000 unique visitors a day last week, 23 percent above our average.
In addition to more than 40 online stories last week, we published dozens in the newspaper, many of them capturing angles beyond the negotiations.
Courts reporter Adam Lynn covered the legal action. General assignment reporter Rob Carson explored the history of local teacher strikes. Business reporter Kathleen Cooper examined the effect on Tacoma schoolchildren who depend on free or reduced-price lunches. Preps coordinator Doug Pacey reported that high school sports would continue. Intern Stephanie Kim wrote about day care options.
Alongside the newspaper and website, we’re feeding cellphones and tablets, where people check the news all day and sit down to read deeply in the evening. And we’re feeding a Facebook following of about 5,000.
Readers want to talk about this story. As of Friday, they had posted more than 4,500 comments on strike stories. We’re getting about four times our normal daily comment volume. The conversation has been pointed, but impressively on-topic. Our unscientific online poll had more than 7,000 votes.
No other website is seeing that level of comment traffic. This is a conversation being hosted by The News Tribune.
Obviously, our work is not completed. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff set the stage for even more in-depth reporting on Friday when he ordered both sides to turn over by Sept. 27 all offers and counter-offers made in the negotiations. We look forward to bringing those details to readers.
Every time we cover a big story, we learn new ways to improve coverage. We picked up skills last week that we’ll use to cover this story in the coming days and apply to other stories in the future.
If you have suggestions for strike-related stories, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434