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Reporting the news can be like a foot race

June 20, 2009|By JOEL HUFFER

If you flip through the Sunday sports section of The Herald-Mail this time of year, you're bound to find results of a Saturday road race -- probably a 5K, a 10K or a five-miler somewhere in the Tri-State area.

Thumb through that same section in the fall or spring and you'll find results of races of longer distances including 10-milers, half-marathons or marathons -- or even ultramarathons such as the JFK 50 Mile.

For reporters, editors and photographers, covering the news can be like running these races.

Take the 5K for starters. It's 3.1 miles -- not a sprint by any means, but about the shortest race you'll find that isn't run on a track.

Our equivalent is breaking news, something to which we have to react. A fire, a fatal accident or a trial verdict are some examples.

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In this case, we often receive a cell phone call from a reporter at the scene who dictates a short story that quickly is posted on our Web site. We also might send out an e-alert to the more than 4,000 people signed up for that service.

If it's close to deadline for the printed Herald-Mail, we step up our pace to get those few paragraphs onto a page with a headline for the following day's edition. If we have some time -- say several hours -- until deadline, the race becomes more of a five-miler.

We can dispatch a photographer to the scene, get a graphic artist to make a map detailing where the incident occurred and allow the reporter to return to the office to write the story. We might even have enough time to get a second reporter to the scene to cover a different angle of the event.

Stories that we spend an entire day covering are more like running a 10K (6.2 miles). We have time to watch a situation develop, plan our strategy and react accordingly to the events.

In these cases, we have a better opportunity to provide more detailed coverage, a greater variety of photos and even video on our Web site. When these stories stretch into a second day, such as a recent hostage situation in West Virginia, they become more like a 10-miler.

Several-day events, such as the recent Western Maryland Blues Fest, are more like a half marathon (13.1 miles). In most cases, we know of them in advance and plan extensive coverage both in print and online.

We write several stories, publish lots of photos and offer videos and slide shows on our Web site. Our annual JFK 50 Mile series in the fall, which offers pre-race, race-day and post-race coverage over eight days, is another example.

Our recent graduation coverage -- of about 30 high schools, colleges and universities -- would fall into the marathon (26.2 miles) category. This kind of coverage requires much planning and utilizes our entire staff of reporters, editors and photographers over a period of six weeks.

Many of the stories that appear on the front page of our Sunday editions also require this kind of time and effort. These in-depth stories often require dozens of phone calls and interviews, are accompanied by several photos, graphics and maps, and can take weeks or months to come together.

The granddaddy of them all is the ultramarathon -- anything longer than 26.2 miles. This is the ultimate test of endurance (and some would say patience).

These are the stories that stretch over months and even years.

They can be investigative in nature and take a reporter time to sift through mountains of records and documents. Or they can be court cases that go through trials, mistrials, appeals and injuctions.

With these stories, you're in for the long haul.

So, whether you're a fan of 5K journalism, half-marathon reporting or 50-mile news gathering, The Herald-Mail is happy to have you along for the ride.

Or should I say run?

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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