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The county clerk threw us a curve ball

Friday, April 11, 2008 | 5:00 p.m. CDT; updated 12:02 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dear Reader,

We faced an interesting situation at the Missourian on Tuesday as the results of the municipal election came in. For several days our reporters and editors had been wrestling over what to do with our print edition, which goes to press at 1 a.m. We predicted we would not get final results in time to meet that deadline, so the question was this: How do we produce a newspaper that even without election results would still be relevant when it hit readers’ driveways in the morning, even though those results would already have been published online?

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We hemmed and hawed but finally came up with a workable plan. Our reporters would visit polling places Tuesday morning and write general stories about voter attitudes for the Wednesday paper. The photo staff would fan out and make portraits of voters as they described the reasons they take time out of their day to cast ballots. At the top of the front page, we’d tell print readers loud and clear that all the news about results would be online.

We had a front page for print almost entirely designed and filled by early evening. That was a good thing, because then we could focus on reporting final results online as quickly as possible.

But the county clerk threw us a curve ball. Results of the election were streaming in so quickly that it became clear by 8:30 p.m. we’d have final tallies in plenty of time to report them in print.

We had a decision to make.

Option 1: Rip up the front page and start from scratch. This would have been painful, given the centerpiece package of photo portraits we all liked so well.

Option 2: Keep the centerpiece but replace the general stories with news about the winners of the City Council and school board races and the fate of the school property tax levy. This would require completely reworking the results teaser but would preserve much of the remaining layout.

Option 3: Ignore the fact that the results would be available in time for print deadline and leave the newspaper as it was. At first, this seemed ridiculous on its face. Why deprive our print readers of news we know? But we ruminated. The results would remain available online, and much of the county would know the outcome of the election by morning anyway. Print could be about story-telling and context; online could be about breaking news. Two different platforms; two different products. It was an intriguing notion.

But in the end we went with Option 2. Our print readers got as many of the results as we would cram into the newspaper, with a nice photo centerpiece to boot.

It’s no secret that your Missourian staff is working hard to adopt a Web-first mentality. But it’s also no secret that many of us have deep roots in traditional print journalism. It’s a sort of schizophrenia. But our Web personalities are beginning to dominate.

— Scott Swafford


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