When news breaks, it makes my day

October 26, 2008|By JOEL HUFFER

Funny how quickly things change in this business.

I came into the office Friday planning to attend an Internet seminar about the legal rules of publishing online.

Instead, I arrived to our city editor pointing her finger at a clipping of a story we published some time ago and saying, "We think this is our shooter."

Our what?

Seems that while I was preparing to come to work, someone was committing a crime six blocks from the office that would keep me busy for the better part of the morning.

So much for the seminar.

In the newsroom, few things create a stir like a breaking story. A shooting and ensuing police search a few blocks away ... well, that is about as dramatic as it gets.


By the time I arrived at my desk shortly after 8 a.m., a reporter and photographer -- both called at home hours before their shifts were to begin -- had been sent to the scene on Summit Avenue. A phone call had been placed to our videographer, and our Web site editor was creating a map to post online.

Within minutes, the chatter on the scanner shifted to South Potomac and Lee streets. It seemed as though the shooter had fled the scene and was believed to be in that area.

The next report was that South Potomac Street had been closed at Baltimore Street. Since we try to get street closures on the Web, particularly during rush hour, we needed to confirm this. With nobody else available, I walked to the intersection.

I saw the street blocked with cones, and could see police gathered along South Potomac Street near its intersection with Lee Street. I came back to the office and gave the information to our Web editor, who posted it online.

While I was out, our photographer had gotten word to editors that police had entered a house on South Potomac Street. By this time, our reporter had made her way there from Summit Avenue.

We sent the next reporter who came into the office back to the crime scene to make sure we didn't miss anything there. A third reporter called the school system to get the complete list of school lockdowns to be posted on the Web.

At this point -- about two hours into my workday -- we knew there had been a shooting, that streets downtown were closed as police searched for a suspect, and that eight county public schools had been locked down.

Our photographer returned to the office a short time later, reporting that police had not found the suspect in either of the two houses they entered. And for a few hours, things quieted down.

Then, around 1 p.m., we got reports of police with a bloodhound searching a trailer park in Funkstown. A reporter and photographer sent there were told by police that it wasn't related to the day's events in Hagerstown.

By the time we held our afternoon news meeting at 4:15 p.m., we still were awaiting a press release from police to sort out the details. The night reporters were staying on the story, working to give readers and Web users the most complete story possible.

Finally, at 5:15 p.m., I called it a day. I just couldn't handle any more excitement.

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

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