Bridge coverage gave readers what TV couldn’t

EXECUTIVE EDITORMay 26, 2013 

I was sitting at a restaurant with some family members Thursday night when the hockey game on TV was interrupted with breaking news about the I-5 bridge collapse over the Skagit River.

I grabbed my cellphone, which already showed The News Tribune’s breaking news alert about the collapse, and called our managing editor to check on coverage plans. Upon my return to the table, a family member particularly good at pushing my Easy Button told me not to worry about it. People would get all they needed to know from TV tonight, he quipped, and this would be old news by the time the paper came out Friday morning.

After reminding him that the TNT alerted me to the news before he saw it on TV, I read to him from our online news updates with information TV didn’t have.

The next morning’s paper was a model for what we can bring to our readers that TV can’t. While the collapse has less impact on Pierce County than parts north, there are effects on South Sound residents, and we focused on those in our coverage.

In addition to the main story and photos that came from our news partners at the scene, we had a front-page story about the seven structurally deficient bridges in Pierce County. In it, the county bridge engineering supervisor talked about recent inspections and restrictions. We had quotes from a Puyallup man driving on I-5 who had to slam on his brakes as the bridge collapsed. And our statehouse reporter had checked with lawmakers about how the collapse might affect the upcoming transportation budget and talks of gas tax increases.

The TV channel I’d watched the night before — and the next morning — had none of that. It’s not their job to. They have to cover all of Western Washington. We had as many reporters working just the Pierce County angles as they had covering the entire event.

So no, dear family member who shall remain nameless, you cannot get everything you need to know from TV. And lay off my Easy Button.

To sign up for TNT breaking news alerts on your phone, go to thenewstribune.com. Click on the “Subscribe” button at the top right. Then click on “Mobile text alerts.”

NO MORE NEWS “TODAY”

A few weeks ago, we made a subtle change in how we identify news happening on a given day.

Previously, we said a Wednesday news event was happening “today” in Wednesday’s paper. That followed Associated Press style, which dictates such things for member news organizations.

But the advent of online news has complicated the matter. That Wednesday story remains active on our website for several days, but still says it happened “today,” which can make it confusing — and inaccurate — for readers.

The opposite also happens. Sometimes we run the Wednesday newspaper story the night before online. If we don’t change the wording, the story again is inaccurate.

We’ve changed our style — along with many other newspapers — so now we use the day of the week rather than “today.” It feels a bit funny to those of us in the newsroom, but we haven’t received any complaints from readers.

DATA HIDING BEHIND PHOTOS

Modern photo technology was our friend in a recent story about members of the Legislature having their official photos retouched. We found out about it accidently while loading those digital photos onto our Capital Update iPad app.

Capital Update editor Melissa Santos was downloading them from the disks provided to her, when she noticed odd bits of information in the caption field accompanying each photo.

Unlike their paper predecessors, digital photos include layers of “metadata,” with permanent stamps such as the date the photo was taken and additional notations made by people handling the photo.

It was in one of these metadata fields that legislators and staffers had sent requests to “diminish the gap between the two front teeth,” or “decrease the bags under his eyes.”

The photo retouches were not only a test of vanity, but may violate a photo-editing rule established in the state Senate and one being considered in the House. The story wasn’t of huge import, but that made it even more newsworthy.

OBSERVING MEMORIAL DAY

Especially this weekend, but throughout the year, we thank our local members of the military — and their families — for their service and, too often, for their sacrifice. We are forever grateful.

Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434
karen.peterson@thenewstribune.com

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