A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

SDX Awards: Online, deadline reporting, HeraldTribune.com

By Quill

Hurricane Charley forced mass evacuations along southwest Florida’s coast as the storm intensified. Within hours, Hurricane Charley grew from a mild hurricane into a Category 4 monster.

As the storm approached, Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s online staff braced to ride Charley out and prepared for the possibility of evacuation.

“In either scenario, our goal was to keep news about the storm updated for the rest of the world,” said general manager Lou Ferrara. “The entire newsroom was organized into a machine for instant online reporting.”

Staff took calls from reporters at shelters, homes and other locations in the field. After passing through editors and the Web team, the updates created HeraldTribune.com’s “hurricane blog.”

“The blog became a source for instant coverage, providing constant breaking news,” said Ferrara. “It was used by thousands of residents, reporters and others from outside the region, including many with property and relatives in Southwest Florida.”

HeraldTribune.com’s homepage encouraged readers to send their accounts. The result was hundreds of photos gathered into a reader gallery online.

“We’ve heard expressions of thanks from all over the country,” said Ferrara. “Many residents turned to HeraldTribune.com for basic information about the storm’s path, evacuation routes, shelters and how to avoid scams.”

The site’s Hurricane Charley coverage was so successful that the staff replicated the coverage for three other hurricanes, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.

“Our coverage of Hurricane Charley has proven that blogs accommodate a burst of information in an immediate format even better than traditional means,” said Ferrara. “Because of the immediate news updates online, readers expressed new levels of confidence in the Herald-Tribune as a news organization.”

The site continues to offer residents recovery guidance.