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DEAR READER: Too cold, wet, nasty and windy — but there's always news to cover

Friday, February 7, 2014 | 7:51 p.m. CST

Dear Reader,

At lunchtime Friday, I looked at the temperature on the Missourian’s home page and thought: Oh, good, it’s 13.5 degrees.

That’s what this winter has come to. Temperatures in the teens, without a minus sign next to them, make us feel like it’s time to break out the flip-flops and shorts.

It hasn’t just been cold. It’s been cold and windy and icy and snowy and pretty much generally crappy.

The most recent unpleasantness, a snowstorm that sauntered in on Tuesday, shut down the city. Most people didn’t venture out. Those who did had a fair chance of seeing or being in one of the dozens of accidents throughout the day.

I got to the office around 8 a.m., before the snow really got going. By 9 a.m., half a dozen reporters were at work. Students and professionals responded in the way they always do when there’s a big story: by going toward the action, not away from it.

It was a grand effort over the next two days.

One of the changes between this and previous snowstorms was the use of a piece of software called ScribbleLive to pull together news items from various sources. So in the “live report,” you saw some information written by reporters and some directly from social media.

It was especially useful because so many public agencies are communicating that way these days. The Missouri Department of Transportation, Columbia Police Department, Columbia Transit and others got the news out by Twitter, and the Missourian amplified their reach.

Other social media posts were aggregated on another page called “social snow” or on a map Wednesday that showed spots where people reported road conditions.

Continually aggregating these sites can become mind numbing. You stare at your computer like a fisherman watches his line, knowing that if you aren’t alert, you’ll miss the nibble of news from the other end.

The response, at least measured by numbers, was good. There were more than a thousand page views to each of the live reports and social snow pages on Tuesday.

The print edition presented an old challenge. It doesn’t matter how well the news gets reported if you can’t read it. So the deadlines to send pages to the pressroom were moved up more than three hours, to 9 p.m., which helped in getting newspapers delivered to the central distribution site on time. But the roads Wednesday morning were awful.

I chatted with Bruce Moore, who runs the circulation department, about 8:30 Wednesday morning. He said carriers were out, but the going was slow, and some houses wouldn’t get their papers. He also said the print subscribers were generally a patient group when the weather is nasty.

By Thursday, I think most people were glad to crawl out of their homes and get back to work.

The group I pitied most this week were parents of school children. Five days off and too cold to kick the kids outside.

On Friday, a 7-year-old who tagged along with his mom to the Missourian was asked whether he really wished, after all this time, that school would reopen.

He paused for a moment, then grinned and said: “Nope.”

It was a good reminder that what’s miserable for some are joyous for others.

Tom


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