When the story broke this afternoon about a shooting that has reportedly left two dead on the Virginia Tech campus, two things happened. People started remembering the horror of the 2007 shooting on the campus that left 33 people dead, and folks nationwide started trying to go to the web site for the Collegiate Times, the VTech student newspaper, for news about what was happening on campus.
But with the sudden surge of readership, both the Collegiate Times and the Virginia Tech web sites went down. The quick thinking young people at the CT, however, quickly got a minimalist photo blog up and running and then later redirected to the paper’s Twitter feed. that required far less server load. This is similar to what major news organizations had to do on Sept. 11, 2001 in order to keep their web site running. Not long after, the official VT page also came back up in minimalist form.
With the student newspaper web site being only minimally functional, the reporters working at the paper jumped over to using Twitter to push reliable news out to readers. I don’t know what the count of followers looked like this morning, but by 3:18 central time today, the paper was up to 20,800 followers.
The university itself also made extensive use of its Twitter account in the absence of a usable web site.
Local TV station WDBJ was live streaming its coverage of the shooting.
As of this posting at about 4 p.m. central time, police in Blacksburg, VA, were reporting that there was no longer an “active threat” on the campus.
The lesson here to communication professionals on either the news or the PR side is to have an alternative plan in place for dealing with an overloaded web server and to have a successful social media communication strategy in place to communicate in both good times and times of emergency.
And a congrats to the staff of the Collegiate Times for stepping up with their coverage. I’ve been really impressed with how the student journalists at Penn State handled coverage the night of Joe Paterno’s firing, and the way West Virginia University journalism students handled coverage the night that President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed.