Sunday, January 16, 2005

A blog by any other name

In the fall of 1999, Hurricane Floyd drove hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians from their homes. Those of us who stayed around to cover the story for the newspaper in Charleston faced an irony: To whom were we publishing?

True, we had the reporters and editors in place. But our carriers had evacuated, and even if we managed to get the paper delivered, our readers had retreated for higher ground. Funny how you don't think about stuff like that until you're in the middle of a crisis, isn't it?

So it was that, right there in the newsroom, we invented a live blog.

Forget deadlines and standard news-cycle gatekeeping: As soon as relevant information reached the city desk, we turned it around and put it up on the front page of our website. It was an ad hoc system -- a features writer and a sports columnist compiling briefs and blurbs in real-time and passing them over to a webmaster who slapped on the tags and republished the site every time an update arrived -- but it was the perfect medium for the information that people needed.

What we had hoped proved to be true: Lowcountry residents desperate for hometown news found that they couldn't get it from radio and TV in Charlotte and Greenville. Instead, they logged on to the internet and went to our website. The website recorded more hits that day than any other before or since, and our success with this new medium left many of us energized about its possibilities.

Nothing came of it, of course, in part because we didn't have a name for what we'd created. But the spirit of that effort, and the sense of community it formed with our readers that day, should serve as an example for the kind of transformation our industry now requires. You can call it a proto-blog. I call it journalism in a different medium.