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Column: On-edge readers clamor for updates


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Four dead in Waynesville.

It was a horrific discovery last weekend, one that left an unincorporated town of 958 reeling.

Only a few minutes south of Columbus, a much larger community of people was also anxious for answers.

Who was killed? Anyone I might know?

Who was responsible? Are they still at large?

If so, could the same killer come after me?

On edge? That would be an understatement.

 

News of the quadruple homicide in Waynesville immediately sent people throughout the Columbus metropolitan area to their computers.

It was Sunday morning, Mother’s Day. Waiting for the next print edition of The Republic — roughly 24 hours away — would not do. And so we began to do what the people of the Columbus area depend upon us to do: Be the primary source of local news and information, making it available when our customers want it and how they want to read it.

And in this instance, they clearly wanted the news from Waynesville now.

Here’s how Day 1 unfolded.

At 2:51 a.m., I was awakened by City Editor Kirk Johannesen, who had just been informed of a 5 a.m. press conference at the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

We weren’t immediately told why it was being called, but when you string together the words “5 a.m.,” “sheriff’s department” and “press conference” in the same sentence, the news can’t be good.

Less than an hour later, answers began to trickle in. A sheriff’s department spokesman said he could tell us that the press conference would be regarding the report of a quadruple homicide in Waynesville.

At 3:46 a.m., we published our first story — a paragraph, really — at therepublic.com, telling you what we knew. It wasn’t much, but it was big.

It also confirmed what I expected, that I would be spending Mother’s Day at the office, updating this important story online with every new detail learned by our newsroom crew in the field. With reporters and photographers gathered and anxious, Sheriff Mark Gorbett started early.

He read a brief statement then said he would take no questions. The event lasted all of 2½ minutes.

As the courthouse clock tower rang five times, reporter John Clark and photographer Joe Harpring were scampering into The Republic building, about a block from the sheriff’s department.

At his office computer, Clark looked up the address announced at the press conference — 2634 E. Main St. in Waynesville — on the county’s electronic mapping service. No such address existed.

We found East Main “Cross” Street, however, with the one extra word. In a town with as few streets as Waynesville, that was probably it. But that would need to be confirmed.

The first story with additional details was posted at 5:22 a.m. The first press conference photo was posted five minutes later. They would be the first few of 20 published updates before our digital work was done for that day at 5:40 p.m., about 15 hours after it began.

At 5:59 a.m. we confirmed the correct address and posted that. The first photos from the crime scene in Waynesville were posted at 6:56 a.m., when it was barely light enough to see.

By 8 a.m., we updated our story with the name of the property owner, Katheryn Burton, gained from county property records. It would be seven hours, however, before police would announce by name that Burton and three others died inside her home sometime Saturday.

In those 10 hours between Sunday press conferences, we were largely on our own in collecting information — reporting what we could see and what the few people of Waynesville willing to talk could tell us. But that’s what journalists are trained to do.

By late morning, Mark Webber had joined the reporting effort, spelling Clark.

You were following our online coverage in droves. When that first-day online activity was tallied Monday morning, Scott Hardin, digital media director, said it was the biggest online audience locally since the flood of 2008. Through noon Monday, digital traffic grew another 50 percent. When Monday print editions began arriving at homes and single-copy outlets, intent readers couldn’t put them down until they read every word about the Waynesville tragedy.

Throughout the coming week, getting a copy of The Republic at local newsstands was hard to do — despite having increased the number of copies printed.

Heavy interest continues.

We streamed a Tuesday press conference online, which nearly 650 people watched.

Some of them signed on a half-hour early, as to not miss a minute. It will be months before all of the facts of the quadruple homicide are known. But rest assured, you can count on us to provide the news you want and need to know — in print and online — every step of the way.

Tom Jekel is editor of The Republic. His column appears each Sunday. You may reach him by phone at 379-5665 or by email at tjekel@therepublic.com.

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