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Finding Lauren: IDS summer staff gets a national story

In Design, IDS, Multimedia, Uncategorized on June 30, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Four weeks, seven P1s, hundreds of Tweets and Facebook updates later, and the Lauren Spierer story is starting to fade.

With daily searches and press conferences ending, it seems a fitting time to take a look at how the IDS has covered an important local story that took off nationally.

First and foremost, the entire IDS summer staff deserves kudos. Their coverage began on idsnews.com the day after Spierer went missing and continued both online and in the daily print edition through to the end. They were at every press conference and every search.

Today, the paper led with this story by Alex Farris, who also did video and photography during the IDS’s coverage of Lauren.

ALEX FARRIS (IDS)

On the last day of general public searches for missing IU student Lauren Spierer, volunteer Jeff Ritter kept doing what he had done for more than a week.

“Every place we look is a place that’s been searched and a place we can cross off the list,” he said.

About 20 other volunteers, with help from professional searchers, brought an end to broad-based searches for the 20-year-old IU student, who has been missing since June 3.

Other notable coverage was written by CJ Lotz, Sarah Brubeck, summer Region Editor Zach Ammerman and summer Editor-in-Chief Brooke Lillard.

Lotz covered much of the early breaking news and wrote features about the Spierer family and the community response.

CJ LOTZ (IDS)

Before the national news paid attention, before Ryan Seacrest tweeted about Lauren, before the press conferences and the search parties, Robert Spierer taped up a picture of his daughter.

At 9:45 a.m. Sunday, he walked into Smallwood Plaza. He looked at his daughter’s face smiling under the words “Missing.” A roll of masking tape on his arm, he stuck another piece along the side of the white paper and rubbed it down against a lobby door in Smallwood.

He talked about Lauren, the younger of his two daughters, who loves fashion and talks to her mother every day.

He couldn’t have anticipated how huge this story would become. In the next few days, millions of people would see his daughter’s face.

In an email, Lotz discussed what the small summer staff learned covering a national story, something that doesn’t usually happen to this scale in Bloomington.

The IDS team has learned a lot on this story. 1. Get there first. We were there from the beginning. 2. Don’t push when it’s not appropriate. We watched broadcasters push microphones in the Spierer’s faces when it was totally wrong. We wanted to step back and respect what was unfolding, and dig in other ways. 3. Read Brook Lillard’s letter from the editor about why we aren’t reporting rumors.

The editorial in question ran on the front page of the IDS and drew a lot of flak from commenters on idsnews.com.

BROOKE LILLARD (IDS)

Since the day the police notified the press of Lauren Spierer’s disappearance, the Indiana Daily Student has worked tirelessly to tell you everything we know about the case.

The coverage is not for our benefit, it is for Lauren and our readers.

Are the commenters right in this case, or was it an appropriate editorial to run on P1?

We also saw some nice things come out from Christa Kumming and her design team. This timeline map did a great job consolidating the large amount of information coming out from BPD in the immediate aftermath of Lauren’s disappearance.

CHRISTA KUMMING (IDS)

And after putting together front pages about the search for weeks, it must’ve gotten difficult to be creative, but this front in particular (John Lindgren’s first P1) took three stories about a two-week-old topic and made them look more than appetizing.

JOHN LINDGREN (IDS)

Any mention about the Lauren Spierer coverage would not be complete without talking about the online coverage, especially on the social media side of things. The Twitter campaign to #FindLauren has been noticed by everyone from Tom Cruise to USA TODAY.

Especially in regard to the anonymous tweeter @NewsOnLaurenS. In under a month, @NewsOnLaurenS has received over 25,000 followers. No wonder the IDS tweets on the search all tag @NewsOnLaurenS.

Lotz interviewed the woman behind @NewsOnLaurenS online.

CJ LOTZ (IDS)

Although the user behind @NewsOnLaurenS said she does not want to reveal her identity because it would take the focus off Lauren, she agreed to a “Twitter” interview with the IDS…

@IDSnews: What does your day look like?

@NewsOnLaurenS: I’ve been falling asleep around 2 – 3 a.m. after one last “PUSH” to remind followers to RT (retweet) Lauren’s info.
@NewsOnLaurenS: A few hours later, I wake up, grab my iPhone and update my feed.
@NewsOnLaurenS: Typically, I find an inspiring message to RT to energize myself and our community. Then, it’s off to my regular business day at work.
@NewsOnLaurenS: I’m never too far away from my phone. If my schedule allows, I will tweet through the press conference and occasionally during the day.
@NewsOnLaurenS: In the evening, I continue to strategize and find new ways to inspire those to continue their advocacy work to help #FindLauren.

Although the anonymous tweeter has garnered most of the national publicity, IDS stories are consistently the most shared links on Twitter in conjunction to the Spierer story.

The IDS account (@idsnews) has also ventured into unfamiliar territory for the Twitter account: live-tweeting. In Bloomington, it’s rare that there is a newsworthy reason to live-tweet an event. Sports has from time-to-time, but live-tweeting involves sending a reporter whose sole responsibility is to constantly update in 140 character bursts. Not worth it for the average IDS piece.

The Lauren Spierer story is far from average.

Former web editor Danielle Fleischman has been live tweeting many of the daily press conferences from BPD. She had just gotten back from a School of Journalism trip to Kenya when she began tweeting the story for @idsnews.

It was heartbreaking to see the emptiness of their faces, the absolute lack of hope that surrounded them and it was then that I realized I had seen that look of despair before.  I had seen it in the faces of people in Kenya who struggled to get food on their table or send their kids to school.  And here in the states was that same sort of sorrow I thought I had left a few oceans behind me.    The whole scene brought tears to my eyes, and made it harder to keep tweeting.  In such an instant it’s difficult to rapidly type up quotes and send them off to Facebook/Twitter without much time available for revision.  It begins to feel exploitative, as though all these journalists are doing whatever they can to get the first bit of new information on the web as fast as possible.

The “Indiana Digital Student”, as it were, has also produced some wonderful content strictly for idsnews.com. There is a special page that archives the continuing Spierer coverage that readers can visit straight from the homepage. Videos from the multiple press conferences are available and slideshows are online from the search efforts.

The Spierer story has also given us an excuse to update some multimedia graphics that have been plaguing the IDS. Thanks to former photo editor Alex Farris, we have ditched the obnoxiously long bumper and now have snazzy new title and credit slides.

Title slide

A few months ago, this would have been a big red bar of gross.

Farris has also been completely on top of all things visual with the Spierer story. He even followed IU ROTC members on a search at Griffy Lake through knee-deep mud in shorts and tennis shoes. Now that’s commitment.

My experience with the Lauren Spierer story started very early. I was sent out June 4, the day after Lauren was reported missing, to take photos of fliers that were being posted and passed out. I only took a few photos, but while I was talking with friends at Scholar’s Inn on the square, a woman walked by and handed us some fliers. She asked if we had heard about Lauren, and I said, “Yes, we’re with the IDS. We’re on it.” I thanked her, and then she thanked me.
Being human was not only called for; it was required. Unlike out-of-town newspapers and TV stations, CJ said, we have to answer to our readers after the story dies down. The same people reading the story now will hopefully be following us later, but they won’t follow us if we’re insensitive and not on top of the story. In that sense, we have a higher standard to uphold than outside outlets.
For me, that standard has meant staying up until 5 a.m. following a tip from a source, dropping everything to cover a served search warrant, driving to the south side of Monroe County to take photos of a state police search, and staying with volunteers an entire day on the last day of public searches. It has meant going to every press briefing, photographing every possible search, following every possible lead, and dealing with every possible emotion. I like to think each struggle has not clouded my news judgment; rather, it has sharpened it, keeping me in touch with how the family, friends and readers feel.

Looking back on the coverage, a few questions come to mind. Shouldn’t @idsnews be the first stop for IU news instead of an independent, anonymous account? Yes, the story received national attention, but should we as journalists make the rounds on national cable news networks instead of letting the story speak for itself? What about the page one editorial? The IDS editor rarely publishes the behind-the-scenes work of the IDS or makes a direct statement to readers. These are questions we won’t answer. But let’s start a conversation. Comment below and we can talk about it.

Overall, the summer staff has done a great job with a skeleton crew. It is praiseworthy and it includes some damn fine reporting. Keep up the good work, gang.

UPDATE (July 1, 2011):

Brooke Lillard, IDS summer editor-in-chief, had this to say about the staff’s coverage:

I remember the first day her parents arrived to search for her, readers were calling into the newsroom as though we were a search headquarters. CJ was actually riding in the car with Lauren’s parents and we were texting each other back and forth to figure out where they were going and how people could help them to find there daughter. Once CJ would text me information, I would tweet it out immediately so that those who wanted to help could do so as soon as possible.

It was at this point when I realized how important it was for us to serve as a public service and that this story was only going to get bigger with time.

During the first week or so, three people were doing the work of 10 people. I think that in and of itself demonstrates that drive and dedication can go a long way.

Our relationship with our readers also went to totally different level. In all of my years working for the IDS, I don’t think I’ve ever received one compliment from a reader. Honestly, from looking at our comments, tweets and Facebook posts, it seemed as though the readers viewed us more as a friend informing them as they asked questions. The best compliment I saw came via Twitter, it was a tweet that said something along the lines of “These aren’t just student journalists, these are journalists outrunning other journalists.” We were seeing multiple tweets like this.

Fighting back

In Uncategorized on April 29, 2011 at 2:24 am

It took me one year (and 700 police reports) to put this story together.

Download a PDF of the page:  Fighting back

Read the story online.

What happens in the frat house, stays in the frat house

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2011 at 11:21 am

When the entire greek social calendar gets “postponed until further notice,” what do you report? The IDS posted the basic information on Saturday:

All greek social events have been postponed until further notice, said Interfraternity Council Vice President of Communications Josh Vollmer.

The decision was made by IFC and Panhellenic Association officers earlier today, Vollmer added.

IFC wouldn’t comment on the reason for the decision.

IFC and PHA serve as leaders of the fraternities and sororities within the greek community.

Continue checking idsnews.com for more information.

It seems like the entire greek community knows what’s going on, but no new information has been added to the story. Why? As ethical journalists, we’re always trying to get information confirmed by the best sources (in this case, IFC) before reporting it. It’s clear that IFC is trying to keep a tight lid on this information, but the rumor mill is already in full swing. Should the IDS quote members of the greek community? Does just being a member of  sorority or fraternity give a person enough credibility to confirm information? Should the IDS publish a rumor swirling through the greek community if it can’t be confirmed by IFC?

In the wake of the recent Arizona shooting (and the false reports that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had died), we should think about how we report breaking news when the fact aren’t clear. Who is a credible source, and how many confirmations should it take for journalists to feel comfortable publishing information?

Shorthand

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2010 at 10:50 am

Normally I don’t post general reporting/writing tips, but it’s Friday and we’re all tired.

Some of us have been talking about shorthand and how we take notes. If you’ve had a class with Tom, he’s probably shown you his scratchy, symbol-filled notes. I have a couple of tools I use (“u” for “you” and initials for names), but I’m always looking for new ones. Check out this guide to shorthand brief forms.

 

How do you take notes? Share your favorite shorthand tricks.

Welcome to the Writer’s Block

In Uncategorized on October 15, 2010 at 2:21 pm

We can do better.

As student journalists, we should always be thinking of ways we can improve the quality of our publications. Daily deadline shouldn’t get in the way of thorough reporting and thoughtful writing. A shrinking news hole should inspire us to produce the best possible content for the space we have.

How can we improve? By celebrating, emulating and talking about good writing. That’s the goal of this blog.

Every day I’ll post a good story, headline, caption or ASF produced by someone from IU student media. I hope this can serve as a forum for us to think about what we’re putting in the paper and how we can improve.

Read something you love? Send me an e-mail at sarhutch@gmail.com and I’ll put it on the blog.