From Tornados to Astronaut’s Attack: Wild Week for ‘Orlando Sentinel’

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By: Joe Strupp

Between last Friday’s nearby tornados, which resulted in at least 20 deaths, and this week’s astronaut love triangle, The Orlando Sentinel has had one of its busiest Web weeks ever. Editors credit much of the online success to a new early morning news shift, in which a group of reporters and editors are on the job at 6 a.m. with a clear breaking Web news approach.

“That group is front-loaded to come in starting at 6 am and up until 8 a.m. so by 9 a.m., when our web traffic peaks, we have new morning stuff up there,” said Anthony Moor, Sentinel assistant managing editor/online. “It helped us immensely because we had people to put out there right away.”

Known as the “AM Team,” the group of two reporters, two photographers and various other editors and desk employees is focused on getting early news on the Web right away. Launched on Jan. 29, editors say the approach has already paid dividends for both the tornado and astronaut stories.

Last Friday, when the tornados hit, the Web site registered 194,000 unique visitors, according to Moor, nearly double its usual 100,000 for a weekday. On Tuesday, the first full day after the astronaut story broke, the Web site saw four times as many visitors, about 400,000, the most ever, he said.

“The most interesting thing was the difference between the two,” Moor said. “On Friday, we had very high user engagement, each user was clicking on many pages. But yesterday, they were clicking on fewer pages. People were looking for that one story and getting out of there.”

Editor Charlotte Hall also praised the online efforts and the impact of the AM Team. “They were incredible,” she said of the early crew. “Especially in the tornados, which hit early. We were able to have people on the Web at 6 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. It enabled us to mobilize immediately to get stuff on the Web. The reporters and photographers knew we were going to file early.”

On the astronaut story, in which a NASA astronaut allegedly attacked the girlfriend of another astronaut at the Orlando International Airport early Monday, Hall said the Web made it possible for the print paper to offer a broader story.

While the Web site posted video of various events, photos, and court and arrest documents, the print product focused more on giving perspective and an overall look at the events. “We were able to add value in to the paper to what people were seeing on the Web and on TV,” Hall said. “We had a lot on the victim in her own words because we were able to get her affidavit. We posted the document, but we were able to craft a more narrative story for the paper.”

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