Inside The Day’s Sunday night news scramble
Monday’s paper was almost tucked away ― and most of our news staff nestled in their homes ― when a massive fire broke out at Seaport Marine just before 9 p.m. this past Sunday.
Day staffers scrambled to get to the scene, and we published a story on theday.com within 45 minutes. We included a tagline at the bottom of that post noting, “This is a developing story,” which is our way of telling you we’re getting the information out to you as we continue to work on the breaking news.
We updated the story online for the next several hours and wrote a second day story the next day. Check out the online version, which has some pretty neat aerial footage.
Executive Editor Tim Cotter wrote about our response in his weekly newsletter, “From the editor’s keyboard,” in which he provides insider commentary on our work. (Sign up for Cotter’s newsletter, and other free newsletters from The Day at https://www.theday.com/newsletters/.)
We know the real heroes Sunday night were the first responders, and the real miracle was that nobody was seriously hurt and the damage wasn’t more extensive. We’re sharing what Cotter wrote in our continuing efforts to show you what happens behind the scenes and demonstrate the value of your local newspaper.
“If there's a good time for a major news story to break, 9 p.m. on a Sunday is not in the running. But that's what happened as the scanner broadcast news of a fire in Mystic. Like most newspapers, The Day works with a skeletal crew on weekends and, at 9 p.m., we were 1 hour away from having to send our last page to the printer.
Copy Desk Chief John Ruddy had covered his share of fires and murders when he was the cop reporter at The Day and those instincts kicked in Sunday as he got on the phone and dispatched photographer Dana Jensen and reporter Erica Moser, neither of who were on the clock.
"I was sitting on my couch catching up on the latest season of 'The Crown' at 9:12 p.m. when I heard my phone buzz..." Moser recalled in an email.
Ruddy had also called veteran journalist Joe Wojtas, who after a long career as a reporter recently moved over to the editing desk. Wojtas agreed to do some reporting and to take dictation from the scene from Moser.
Ruddy knew getting a story and photo on the website would not be a problem, but the print deadline loomed. Our printer in Providence agreed to give us an extra half hour.
"I drove down Route 1, and as I was a mile away, the sky was an eerie pink," Moser said. "I couldn't drive at all down Washington Street so I parked in the CVS parking lot and started walking down the street, but yellow caution tape was up as far back as Jackson Avenue. Joe suggested I go to Mystic River Park, but that was also taped off, so I walked across the bridge and got a better view of the fire from the other side of the river..."
There, Moser ran into Jensen.
Moser and Wojtas were able to piece together a story and, with the fire still burning, Ruddy placed the story on the page and sent it to Providence. All the journalists also sent out tweets updating the scene. Moser would later get comments from the fire chief, and by midnight the online story with photographs had been posted. (Reporter Greg Smith and Peter Huoppi, armed with a drone, reported to the scene early the next day.)
Few newspapers own a printing press these days. That's the case at The Day. With all these papers lining up at the available printers, deadlines have moved earlier and earlier. It's why fewer and fewer sports game stories and municipal meeting coverage make the paper. Deadlines are taken seriously, as a missed one has a domino effect, making it more difficult to get the paper to subscribers in the morning.
We're in a deadline business and it's not unusual for the newsroom to work frantically right up until the last minute to get you the news you need. But in my 30 years at The Day the Mystic fire coverage stands out as an extraordinary effort. A handful of journalists never thought, 'oh well it's too late, we can always get the story online.'
Instead, they were determined to get as much news onto page 1 for our morning print readers. It was an old-fashioned effort, and another reason why The Day is a must read for local residents.“
Cotter concluded the newsletter, which is sent to non-subscribers as well as subscribers, by saying that without more subscribers, “this kind of effort will become more difficult.” As always, we’re grateful for your continued support of our work.
Karen Florin is The Day’s engagement editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (860) 701-4217.