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How The Seattle Times Covered A Snow Storm

The ice is finally starting to melt in Seattle today after one of the worst snow and ice storms in recent years — one that prompted Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire to issue a state of emergency. It was a storm that affected everyone’s day-to-day lives, from transit changes and road closures, to snow days at local elementary schools and colleges. Through it all, The Seattle Times has been a hub for the latest information on the web using a combination of creative packaging, a steady flow of fresh blog content, lots of multimedia, and help from readers who were eager to share information. These are a few ideas you can riff off when weather news breaks in your region.   Full disclosure: I’m a producer at the newspaper.

Live chats

During the worst of the storm, web producers hosted a live chat throughout the day, which served as a place for readers to ask questions about the commute, share updates about weather and ice in their locations, and allowed Times staff to quickly give updates about ever-changing conditions and closures. This community-service chat, while happening, was always linked to high on the homepage, or embedded into the sidebar of the homepage.   Tool of choice: Cover It Live.

From social media producer Sona Patel:

A live chat gave us the ability to do real-time reporting. We were getting reports of road closures, power outages and accidents on Twitter and Facebook at a rate that would have made it nearly impossible to keep up with publishing new blog posts to our weather blog.

The live chat gave us the opportunity to engage and interact with readers. Several chat participants were asking for updates on school closures, road conditions and information on power outages. In those cases, we’d either pull information from our stories or ask their questions on Twitter or Facebook and post the answers to the chat.

One of the biggest successes by far was relying on chat participants to provide information to each other. Some participants uploaded photos to the chat that showed how much it snowed in their area or what the traffic was like. They were our eyes and ears.

Homepage packages

With the wealth of weather content continually streaming into the site, there needed to be a place to highlight the best and latest information. Weather news stayed in the homepage centerpiece at seattletimes.com during the second wave of the snow storm, from Monday night through Friday. The packages were comprehensive and continually-updated, containing links to the latest forecasts and road closures, event and school cancellations, ideas for what to do with the kids, commute and fight statuses and links to our latest photo galleries and videos.

Reader photos

When it snows, everyone takes pictures, which is a huge opportunity for reader engagement. Web and social media producers asked readers in blog posts, Facebook updates and tweets to share their photos by emailing weatherpix@seattletimes.com. This sent images into a Flickr account moderated by web staff. The best reader photos were curated into a gallery. There was also a second gallery specifically for photos of pets in the snow. There were more than 1,000 photos submitted by readers.

A steady stream of blog posts

In The Weather Beat blog, reporters and producers constantly posted updates about the weather. There were more than 100 posts published between Monday and Friday related to the storm. The freshest and most important of those links were curated onto the homepage. The topics of the posts ranged from traffic alerts, to tips for removing snow from trees, to polls, to video.

Video: Both raw and edited

People throughout the newsroom submitted raw video from their neighborhoods. Some of it was raw video of tires spinning out or snow falling at The Space Needle. One blog post featured video of different objects people were using to scrape ice off their windshields (CD cases, spatulas, dustpans). Another favorite was video response to The LA Times’ allegation that Seattleites are “snow wimps.”

Other miscellaneous snow coverage and tools:

  • Snow depth map: This was compiled by reader contributions on social media and other reports. More than 94 Facebook fans measured the depth of snow in their locations and commented on the Facebook page.
  • Commute photo map: Web producer Nikolaj Lasbo walked in the snow from The Seattle Times to his home in Ballard — a 6 mile trek — and took photos along the way. He plotted them on a map and posted to the blog.
  • Panoramic photo of people sledding at a park.
  • Neighborhood threads were opened for each neighborhood in Seattle, with the idea being that people in various communities would want a common forum to talk about the weather. These weren’t so popular, though, getting virtually no comments.
  • Google form for reader condition submissions: Readers could post about the conditions in their location and responses were plotted on a Google Map.
  • Posted archive photos to Facebook from a snow storm in 1943 and asked readers to try to pinpoint the location
  • Not only reporters and producers were contributing to the blog– editors and photographers were posting directly, too. Thanks to their smartphones, we had people from all across the newsroom who were equipped to shoot video from their locations and upload directly to YouTube.
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