It’s 7 a.m. on Thursday, June 18. Seen above, Times editors are gathered in a semi-circle around the Real Time news desk area for the daily ritual of the morning meeting to talk about stories that are in the works. It’s a no-brainer for the main breaking news coverage today: The killing of nine AME church members in Charleston, S.C. by 21-year-old Dylann Roof.
This has already been a busy week for breaking news coverage for the Times. Just two days earlier the Times mobilized for extensive coverage of the tragic balcony collapse in Berkeley, CA that killed six young students.
The meeting lasted about 25 minutes, and about half that time was devoted to planning coverage of the church shootings for the digital product. At the time of the meeting the suspect had not been confirmed by officials, but rumors and a photo of a possible suspect were being circulated on social media and the web. Editors wanted this information out quickly, but also wanted it confirmed before publishing it.
Editors brought up the issue of how South Carolina continues to fly the Confederate flag, an aspect of this story that was being talked about on social media.
“It’s a black church and white gunman,” one editor said. “We can’t ignore the cultural implications of this.” This aspect of the story was then smartly added to the coverage mix.
The Times online coverage was impressive, and continually updated throughout the day. They had reporters and photographers on scene and reporters working the story remotely from Los Angeles and other bureaus. This was a thoughtful approach to a fast-breaking story of national importance.
I was given a small piece of this coverage and asked to interview local AME church leaders for a short video. I called several AME churches close to the Times office and left messages asking if anyone was available to comment. Then I headed out with my camera and equipment to the First AME church where I found one church official available for an interview. Also on scene was a reporter for KCAL 9 along with her camera operator.
“I’m not used to seeing newspaper people with video cameras,” the reporter remarked. The AME official was also skeptical, and asked to see my Times identification badge before he would do an interview on camera.
“I’m used to dealing with the Times in print,” he said.
I completed the short interview and then got a call back from one of the messages I had left earlier. I was told that several AME pastors were meeting soon at the Ward AME church about a five-minute drive from where I was now. I went over there and recorded several interviews with church leaders. I even received bonus coverage with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck showed up to assure church leaders of their safety, and I recorded his brief address.
I returned to the Times newsroom to edit and later post the video above.