Newspaper Web Sites Gear Up for War

By: Carl Sullivan

As Chicago’s Tribune Interactive finalized its plans for coverage of a possible war with Iraq, the space-shuttle tragedy provided the Tribune Co.’s Web sites an unexpected opportunity to preview their game plan. “The Columbia disaster was a warm-up,” says Scott Anderson, director of shared content, as he described how Tribune Web sites across the country shared stories and graphics during the harried weekend of the crash and the days that followed.

“We’ve got more sharing going on than you can shake a stick at,” says Anderson, who has been working to encourage cross-property cooperation both online and off. After 9/11, an intranet called “Tribskeds” was developed to facilitate content-sharing on the print side. The system includes the daily budgets of all Tribune newspapers so that editors can see what their sibling papers are planning. The system also benefits Tribune Web editors because they can see what content will be available, Anderson says.

In December, representatives of Tribune online properties held a summit meeting to determine how they could share resources in the event of a Middle East war. Breaking-news packages will be handled by Anderson’s staff in Chicago, allowing staff in other markets to spend more time localizing the story, he says. If a war breaks out, Web editors will compile a daybook so every site will know what stories, graphics, and multimedia packages are available.

Like most Tribune properties, The Hartford (Conn.) Courant is planning two-tiered online coverage: global and local. “We have already created a special area of our Web site [], which is updated 24/7 using a combination of Courant, Tribune, and Associated Press text, images, video, and audio,” says Courant Online News Editor Gary Duchane.

“Postcards from Kuwait,” an online feature about local military personnel, already has proven to be very popular at, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s site, says Online News Editor Dale Singer. Compiled by Post-Dispatch staff equipped with a digital recorder, the feature includes snapshots of the service people plus audio clips.

A photographer for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis will produce video from the field, and then send finished clips via satellite phone, says Editor Ben Welter. “We’re not sure yet where he’ll be situated; he may be embedded in Iraq,” he says. The site also will post Web-only stories filed daily by a Star Tribune reporter based in Qatar, audio interviews with the newspaper’s reporters in the region, a war Web log pointing to online resources, and a Web-only journal written by a Minnesotan with a relative dispatched to the war zone.

Web publishers also are developing business contingency plans. Questions being considered: Will we let advertisers pull out if a war starts? Will we ban pop-up ads on war coverage? Do we have server capacity to handle huge traffic spikes? Will we turn off our registration barriers in the case of a major news event? Says Tribune’s Anderson, “We’ve done some very detailed scenario planning.”

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