The KBI was envious.
The special agents of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation were assigned to courthouse security in tiny Eureka, KS, for the capital murder trial of Scott Cheever. Cheever was accused of killing the local sheriff. They regularly commented about the set-up of my smart phone and fold-up Bluetooth keyboard, as I pounded live updates.
This tragedy unfolded with tinges of Mayberry. Sheriff Matt Samuels was every bit as beloved as Sheriff Andy Taylor on the old “Andy Griffith Show” of my childhood and late night reruns on TV Land. Samuels sometimes didn’t carry a gun, and when he died trying to serve a warrant on a then-23-year-old Cheever in a rural house, it shook the small community. Samuels would be the first Kansas sheriff killed in the line of duty in 50 years. Cheever’s story would recount the horrible waste that methamphetamine has wrought in the Midwest.
And we decided to cover it differently.
As we continue our series on Rob Curley’s seven ways to help revitalize our industry, we have to remind ourselves that this is about using different ways to tell stories.
Multimedia is not just about adding a video or audio. It’s about an experience, using a variety of media parts to make a whole story.
With the Cheever trial, our on-line team – especially senior producer Jeff Butts and supervising editor Nick Jungman – were ready. We started it as an experiment, and finished with more confidence in our ability to deliver news in different ways.
Jeff designed this page to carry our multimedia, past stories, daily stories and live updates. Other newspaper.coms have done similar projects. We didn’t break any ground, but in our part of the world, it was fresh.
In the middle of the trial, we got some encouragement from online journalism guru Mindy McAdams, which gave us a shot of encouragement and kept us going. She pointed out the limitations of our page design, which she recognized we inherited from the now-defunct Knight-Ridder. We focused on content.
During the trial, I would provide live updates, using my T-Mobile Dash with a Bluetooth keyboard, sending it back to Jeff using my Yahoo! Email account.
In addition to impressing the KBI, it works better than a laptop. It’s so small, I can put
everything in my pockets, if I want. I can turn off all the sounds, so the phone doesn’t even vibrate. Judges love it, because it’s not as big as a laptop.
Jeff would get the updates and send it to our online copy editors, who work it and get it online as fast as possible. Here’s what one looked like.
We also figured out that we could connect through Yahoo! Instant Messenger, if the desk had quick questions (the email doesn’t download immediately).
Everything went through editing, except for one moment:
The day of the verdict, Jeff linked the IM to the web tools, I did everything on the IM and it published live onto the web, including all typos and the worst sentence I’ve probably ever written. But we fixed everything within minutes. It was very exciting and quite a rush.
Meanwhile I’ve connected my audio recorder, an Edirol 09, to the audio feed through the broadcast pool.
The courts had a makeshift pressroom set up in the judge’s library for this. In there, I kept a Mac Book Pro, so I never had to take it into the courtroom, where the judge might consider its size intrusive. But I could have easily done this part in the front seat of my car, if I wanted. On the MacBook is Audacity (a free audio editor) and a Soundslides Plus on it. We also have outfitted it with Final Cut Express, in case we want to edit video.
In this case, we decided the emotional testimony is what we wanted, and the audio
pared with still could be more powerful than video. We were right, I think. But you can be the judge.
I also had a 1GB USB flash drive memory stick hanging around my neck. When court recessed, I’d hand it to the photographers and have them download their photos onto it. I plugged the memory stick into the Mac Book. Prosecutors have their exhibits on JPGS to use on a PowerPoint presentation for the jury, so I could also hand them my flash drive and have them download copies of crime scene photos (no bodies, of course) that we
Then I downloaded audio from the recorder to the MacBook, edit out slices of it, and drop it into a folder with pictures and feed it into Soundslides.
On workflow, the stories for print were actually easier, because of the live updates I’d filed all day. After court ended, I could go online, take the best of what I wanted to use, cut and paste it into a story, write a new lead and smooth out the transitions. Basically, the updates saw me writing out my notes live. I knew I had the audio for backup, recording the entire trial.
With the time I would have used writing stories from scratch, I added multimedia components with the slide shows and some audio clips of phone calls made the day of the shooting by the sheriff and his deputies.
I got emails from readers who called the updates “addictive.”
I will definitely be doing this again with other trials. And hopefully, it will catch on with other reporters and other stories. It’s one idea of how multimedia can come together.
The KBI not only liked my set-up, the bureau even asked for a copy of a slide show we did on meth to use to train its agents.
Talk about feeling that you’re providing useful information.