Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Online Coverage of the Floods

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Online Coverage of the Floods

Article excerpt

WHEN NORTHSCAPE NEWS the electronic version of the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota--went online roughly six months ago (http://www.northscape.com/), no one could have predicted the role it would play as a lifeline to a community devastated by water and fire.

"The Web site has been a lifesaver in a lot of ways," said Jim Durkin, managing editor of the Herald, the daily newspaper, which also found itself struggling along with the rest of the ravaged city, as one of its downtown offices was first flooded and then burned down. However, an adjacent Herald building was only flooded and is still standing.

"Obviously vital information is being provided to people," said Durkin of the Web site that has received more than 1,300 e-mail requests for help and information from people who fled the area and are trying to find out about their homes and property.

In addition, a lot of the e-mails are from distant relatives trying to find to find a way to communicate with local residents.

Northscape News even linked to Cable News Network (CNN) so that it can provide online video clips of the damaged areas and thus help at least some people get a look at their homes and businesses via the Web site.

Perhaps the overall importance of Northscape was underscored by the number of times the site has been viewed over the course of the disaster. On April 1, during routine daily operation, the Web site was logging about 4,000 page views a day, said Amy Rabinovitz, marketing director for Knight-Ridder New Media. But by April 22, it was logging more than 75,000 page views every 24 hours. "This is more traffic than any other Knight-Ridder Web sites except San Jose," said Rabinovitz.

Knight-Ridder New Media also moved quickly to provide residents throughout the flood area with no-cost Internet access as well as toll-free numbers so that they could connect to the Internet.

Immediately after the Herald's physical plant was destroyed, the news room staff scrambled to find temporary quarters in which they could continue to produce a newspaper and maintain the Web site.

Tony Lone Fight, a graphic artist who oversees Northscape News, said that while he was able to upload the online edition on Friday night- right before the newspaper offices had to be evacuated

he moved from one location to another, prodded along by flood waters catching up with him first at a friend's house and later at the University of North Dakota. …

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