Web Demand On Dead Firefighters Story Jams Charleston Site

By: Joe Strupp Web users who logged on to The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C. this morning for the latest on the tragic fire that killed nine firefighters there experienced delays, and in some cases outright failures, to get on the paper's site thanks to high volume and limited server capabilities, according to editors.

This was the worst loss of firefighters in one event since the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on New York.

Executive Editor Bill Hawkins said the problems began at 7 a.m. when web traffic, which he believed was the heaviest ever in the paper's history, increased significantly, overloading a back-up server that had been in use for the past week.

"It got slammed and we had trouble even posting this morning," said Hawkins, who commented about the fire that broke out at 8 p.m. Monday. "It was slow and people would not be able to get on, but it never went down completely. It was like having to hit a redial."

Web technicians sought to increase bandwith by about 20% at one point, Hawkins said. But when it was found that the back-up server was simply unable to handle the increased traffic, editors sought to ease the impact, at one point removing all video from the site, including some video of the fire.

"It is one of those things that could not have come at a worse time," Hawkins said. "This will have to be our busiest Web day. We have never had this kind of traffic to jam the server, it is such a compelling story." He said technicians were working to reconnect to the main server this morning.

Even with the Web problems, the paper has gone full force on the story, editors said, which may wind up being the biggest local story since Hurricane Hugo in 1989, in terms of national interest. Hawkins said a link to The Drudge Report added to the Web demand.

Managing Editor Steve Mullins said the paper had considered putting out a print extra today, but decided to devote attention to the web and the Wednesday edition.

As of this morning, editors were planning to add four extra pages to the next edition, with all of the 10-page A section on the story, as well as six pages of the 10-page local section set for coverage. Space is being set aside for full bios and photos of each of the deceased firefighters. The paper also plans to add 5,000 copies to its single-copy press run.

At least 20 members of the paper's 140-person newsroom staff are on the story, Mullins said. "This is going to end up being a sad one for us," he said.


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