Wick Communications

When the site goes down

In Online media on 16 Aug 2013 at 7:55 am

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You might have noticed that our high-tech world is fragile. Not to get too technical here, but sometimes stuff just mysteriously stops working.

Within the last couple of weeks, the websites for some very large and important news outlets went dark, including those for the New York Times and PBS. Sometimes the cause is something sexy, such as January’s China-based cyberattack on the Times website; other times, it’s more mundane. The Times site went down on Wednesday during routine scheduled maintenance.

So what’s a (slightly) techno-phobic journalist to do in an instance like that? There has been quite a bit of chatter about that as a result of the recent outages. Here are some thoughts to consider.

Use existing social media: The Times turned to its Twitter and Facebook accounts on Wednesday, posting several in-depth stories. That makes perfect sense to me. You have an existing presence there and hundreds of your fans will see your stuff.

Report the problem: It’s always tempting to ignore bad internal news, but there is no harm in telling readers on your social networks that you are experiencing a glitch, working to repair it and will be publishing on social platforms in the meantime. Everyone can relate to a temporary technical glitch.

You can create a new blog/site: Media guru Dan Gilmour thinks the Times should have had a backup site, perhaps a simple WordPress site (like this one), ready to go in such a pinch. He’s reasoning is sound. The Times doesn’t control Facebook and so is at the whim of a third-party when it posts there. I guess that’s true, though it strikes me as a somewhat paranoid worldview. I suppose we can imagine a situation in which hackers run amok and hit even our back-ups, right? Myself, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. …

Here’s what you don’t want to do: Don’t just throw up your hands and give up breaking news. Your site may be down a couple minutes or a couple days. You must maintain your commitment to timely reporting that beats competitors to the punch. Don’t let technical snafus distract you from that mandate.



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