Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Covering a developing story

It was just before 8 a.m. Tuesday when I ran out of the office to chase down a raid on a medical marijuana dispensary taking place within our county.
That was the start to what would be a long day trying to keep track of the latest developments in the story.
What started off as a raid at one dispensary turned into a raid at two dispensaries, then at a bar, then a strip club, and then at a home.

iPhone photo
Here's how we did it, and how we could've done it better:

How we did it
1) I put a two sentence story up on our website. It went something like this "A raid of a medical marijuana facility is taking place in Walled Lake. The Oakland Press is sending a reporter to the scene."
2) I grabbed the iPhone, which once again proved itself as one of the most valuable tools to cover breaking news. While en route, I called a photographer to give him a heads up and promised a callback once I figured out where the raid was taking place.
3) Once on scene, I called back to the office and, for the sake of expedience, gave the information on the dispensary's name, address, phone number and website to staffer Valerie West. (What turned out to be really neat was that Valerie instantly recognized the dispensary as the one she'd recently gotten kicked out of while working on a story about medical marijuana ordinances in the county.) While it was comforting to know I could've updated the story from the iPhone itself, it was still faster to call back to the office and relay the information over the phone rather than fumble with the iPhone little's keypad.
iPhone photo
4) I interviewed employees of nearby businesses to get quotes and color for the story. After each interview, I called back Valerie with a quote to update the story.
5) I shot photos using Dropbox on the iPhone. We may have very well been the first news outlet in the area to have images of the raid online.
6) I took video with the Flipcam.
7) I was on the scene from 8:30 a.m. to nearly 10:30 a.m. Once back in the office, I set about making calls like mad. Meanwhile, other staffers at the office were also making calls. By the time I arrived back at the office, we had a full-fledged story with photos posted online, and a reporter and videographer en route to a second raid. We continued updating the story throughout the day.

How we could've done it better
1) I spent a lot of time on the scene, had the iPhone handy and could've been Tweeting. Should have been Tweeting. Mental note taken for next time.
2) I could have shot a 15-second video via Dropbox and had video online before any other news outlets too. We need more people set up with Dropbox.

In total, the stories about the raid garnered 10,283 pageviews — pretty good for us.

At the end of the day, we had a comprehensive story with two videos and a huge variety of photos. The staff really worked as a team to get the latest on this story, keeping it freshly updated and making it a solid multi-media story package.

See the full story, WITH VIDEO: Feds raid Oakland County Medical Marijuana dispensaries

The photos posted here are from the iPhone. The video is my contribution; our full-time videographer has a second video from a second location posted within the story file.


  1. iPhone is such an adaptable tool.

  2. It truly is. I feel more confident with it my hand (like, 'Well, if push comes to shove, I can do it all from this device')

  3. Hi Karen,

    I am curious as to what "shot photos using Dropbox" means. Can you explain that more? I've never used Dropbox, but my understanding was that it's just a tool from moving files from the phone to the computer or to a server or such. How can you utilize it to take photos and where do these photos go when you take them?

    Also, I'm curious as to why you decided to use the Flipcam vs. just taking video with the iPhone, which you can email directly to Syndicaster...


    Viktoria Sundqvist

  4. Hi Viktoria,

    Thank you for the good questions, you inspired me to write a blog post and create a how-to document on using Dropbox. Here's the link to today's post (

    As for why I didn't just use the iPhone to shoot the video, it was extremely windy that morning. The iPhone is much shakier than the Flipcam and much more sensitive to that awful wind noise. I didn't get any really good video until the very end, when someone finally arrived who could speak on camera. Up until that point, all I had was B-roll shots of the building and some shots of police walking in and out the front door.

    Essentially, I had enough shots to create a b-roll video with a voiceover, but not a whole lot else.

    I've found the iMovie editing app on the iPhone to be really cumbersome to use. If I'd invested the time to edit what I had on the camera, I probably would've missed some of the better shots I was able to get. With Syndicaster not able to add lower thirds, I don't prefer doing all my editing in Syndicaster, especially if you don't have any audio and need a voiceover.

    So, there was lots of reason — quality of video, availability of shots & what that required of the editing process, and considerations of how in-phone editing would cost me time and attention that I really couldn't sacrifice while still gathering information at the scene.

    If I had to do it over again, I probably would've tried to take a few 5- or 10-second clips via Dropbox (using the iPhone) and sent them back to the office. It's the fastest way to get content up (considering you have support staff working on it at the office) without interrupting your news gathering abilities. The office staff then could've used our more sophisticated video editing software to try to dial down that awful wind noise as best as possible, and add a lower third or voiceover to give viewers some hint about what they're watching.