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Newsroom scrambles to break news on deadline and online

February 18, 2008|By JOEL HUFFER

Whew, what a week.

A primary election featuring a highly debated ballot question AND a state delegate's resignation during the current Maryland General Assembly session.

That puts some electricity in a newsroom.

Election nights in the newsroom are always an adrenaline rush, with reporters scrambling to collect vote totals and write stories, and editors double- and triple-checking those numbers and reading the stories.

The goal always has been to get as much information as possible by deadline, so readers can have comprehensive coverage in their morning newspaper. But in this age of technology, that's no longer the only goal.

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Now, with our Web site (www.herald-mail.com), we have the ability to give users up-to-date information as the election unfolds, as well as beyond the deadline for the printed newspaper.

And with the circumstances as they were Tuesday night, we took full advantage of our digital opportunities.

With a winter storm affecting the state, an Anne Arundel County judge ruled that polls across Maryland must remain open an extra 90 minutes, until 9:30 p.m. While that allowed another 10,000 votes to be cast statewide, it made hairs stand up on the backs of necks across the newsroom.

In our world, 90 minutes is an eternity. Having to wait that long for election results would affect the quality of coverage in the printed newspaper.

We decided to go with two editions - the first to Pennsylvania and West Virginia with coverage of only the presidential primaries, and the second for our Maryland readers that added complete results from Washington County in the Board of Education and 6th District congressional races and on the charter home rule ballot question.

In the time between editions, we constantly updated election results on our Web site, posting numbers from the county elections board as soon as they were available. Users could watch the races unfold as 10 precincts, then 25, then 40, and finally all 50 precincts in Washington County reported.

Web users could see as voters soundly rejected charter home rule by a 2-1 margin and bucked the state trend by selecting Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential primary.

Truth be told, it makes for a much more hectic work environment, but it's exciting to be able to give the public information in "real time," something we couldn't do when we offered only a printed product.

Then, on Friday morning, in both the newspaper and online, we broke the story about a police search of Md. Del. Robert A. McKee's home in Halfway. As the story developed throughout the day, we kept the public up to date on our Web site.

As reporters were gathering information from police and court officials locally and from other legislators in Annapolis, editors were reading the ever-evolving stories and posting them online.

Over the course of the day, we took Internet users from the search of McKee's house to the delegate's resignation to the Washington County Sheriff's Department's revelation that it was investigating McKee for child pornography.

Each time we learned additional information, we shared it with you. We didn't have to wait until Saturday morning.

And that's our new world.

Welcome to it.

Joel Huffer is assistant city editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2327, or by e-mail at joelh@herald-mail.com.

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