Charleston Daily Mail covers (and curates) pipeline explosion

Headline: Gas line explosion creates Interstate inferno
Outlet: Charleston Daily Mail
Journalist: Charleston Daily Mail staff
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A pipeline explosion is the kind of classic breaking news story that journalists have raced to cover for generations. But a pipeline explosion today does more than just send a fireball into the sky — it shuts down an Interstate highway and sparks a social media explosion of cell-phone photos and eyewitness accounts.

The Charleston Daily Mail excelled in old-school reporting and photojournalism as well as curating the social media stream in coverage of the Dec. 11 explosion of a Columbia Gas line near Sissonville, W.Va. The staff coverage of the blast won the DFMie for December for the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/West Virginia cluster of Digital First Media.

Editor Nanya Friend explained in her nomination how the Daily Mail staff covered the blast:

On Dec. 11, the Charleston Daily Mail staff learned that a gas pipeline had exploded in a residential area. Turned out it was a monster fireball that rumbled toward Interstate 77, scorching homes, burning trees, melting cars and making the highway asphalt crumble. We sent three reporters and a photographer to the scene, while three reporters stayed in the office, making calls and helping monitor social media posts.

We created the hashtag #KanCoBlast, and encouraged other news organizations to use it. Our live reporters used the hashtag in their tweets from the scene. We used the newspaper Twitter account to retweet the reporters and to share photos, video and graphics as they became available.

We created three different Storify streams during the first hours of coverage. As the news developed, we updated an initial Storify that served as a reservoir of breaking news and reaction. That Storify received more than 4,000 views. Later, we created a Storify of just photos, and then a Storify the next day detailing the overnight repaving efforts on the interstate. Those other stories received a combined 1,000+ views.

On Facebook, we created a photo gallery of submitted and staff photos, which we continued to update. The photo album itself was shared 200 times, and several of the individual photos received dozens of shares.   We also posted to Facebook and Twitter two graphics we created — a locator map showing where the blast occurred, and a detour map telling travelers the best route while the interstate was closed. These graphics received several shares and retweets on both social networks.

On our website, we posted an initial breaking news story, which received more than 600 Facebook recommendations. We kept this story updated with confirmed reports, photos, video, and a link to the Storify. We also shared this story on Facebook, where it received almost 50 shares, and Twitter, where it was retweeted dozens of times. We added a video to our story, and the video received more than 1,400 views.

The next day, coverage dominated the front page of our print edition. We posted the photo to Facebook, where it received more than 50 shares.

A judge’s comment:

The Daily Mail hit several factors on this story: great breaking news coverage; using multiple digital tools such as social media and video; and community engagement by integrating reader comments, photos and videos into their coverage.

I was impressed by the way the staff scrambled to update the breaking story, to create a Storify to pull in reader comments and multimedia, to put updates on Twitter and their blog, and to really involve readers in telling the story. They have also continued to follow up on the story, covering the impact on the victims as well as the investigation into the explosion.

Another judge:

Breaking news is always exciting for reporters and editors but the new digital tools available for doing compelling storytelling give us lots of great options to catch readers and the Daily Mail did this well. The stories were complete (and I notice they have done lots of good follow-up coverage) but the visuals – posted via Twitter, Facebook and Storify – really made me take notice.

The immediacy of the disaster was captured by the photo postings and this was a tremendous visual story with the monster fireball consuming the neighborhood. Creating a hashtag early was a great move so that readers could follow the news as it developed on the scene from multiple sources. Getting so many hits on the Storify presentations must have been rewarding for the newsroom crew.

The locator map and detour map were also useful additions for readers. Experimenting with Facebook, Twitter and other social media is a learning experience for all newsrooms as we figure out how to expand our audience and how to crowdsource on breaking stories; it sounds like these tools worked well for this story so kudos to the reporters, photographers and editors who pulled it all together.

The stellar coverage of the Daily Mail staff continued after the blast:

Charleston Daily Mail Dec. 12

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