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Tom Caprood joins Register Citizen as co-managing editor

4 Mar

Tom Caprood, online editor at The Record in Troy,  New York, for the past three years, starts work at The Register Citizen in Torrington today as co-managing editor.

Tom Caprood

Tom Caprood

At The Record, also a Journal Register Co. daily, Caprood led efforts to open the newspaper’s doors to the public. He partnered with local bloggers and invited readers to classes led by them.

That effort was in part inspired by The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe, an “open newsroom” experiment that Caprood will now help lead.

Prior to being promoted to online editor in Troy, he worked as a reporter at The Record for two and a half years.

Caprood is a 2007 graduate of The College of Saint Rose in Albany,  N.Y. He and his wife recently moved to Torrington.

At The Register Citizen he will share co-managing editor duties with Tom Cleary, who joined the staff earlier this year, under the leadership of John Berry, editor of The Register Citizen and Middletown Press.

Follow Tom Caprood on Twitter @tomcaprood.

Ben Doody joins JRC Connecticut as managing editor

28 Sep

Ben Doody will re-join Journal Register Co. in a few weeks as managing editor of our Connecticut cluster.

Ben is presently digital news editor of Hearst’s Connecticut newspapers, including the Connecticut Post in Bridgeport, the Danbury News-Times, the Greenwich Time and the Stamford Advocate.

Ben Doody

Previously, he worked for JRC as assistant sports editor at The Trentonian in New Jersey for more than three years, and he was chosen as an inaugural member of JRC’s “Idea Lab” thanks to his innovative work there with social media, live blogging and comprehensive local and college sports coverage.

Ben holds a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism from Fairfield University and was editor-in-chief of its weekly newspaper, the Fairfield Mirror.

While still at the Trentonian, Ben started to cross over to become more involved in regular news coverage vs. just sports, and at Hearst, he started out as morning news editor overseeing breaking news coverage statewide before being promoted to a wider digital news role.

In the new role with JRC Connecticut, he’ll help the group editor coordinate statewide news coverage and continue our reorganization around breaking news, community engagement and investigative and enterprise reporting. He’ll also lead the cluster’s transition to redesigned print editions and redesigned web sites and oversee training and career development of Connecticut newsroom staff.

What bankruptcy means for Journal Register Company newsrooms

6 Sep

First of all, let me couch this by saying that I’m speaking only for myself, and that I continue to appreciate the fact I work for a company that allows and encourages employees to think for themselves, speak their minds and debate company strategy in public view. That makes us stronger and helps us avoid mistakes that can be made in an insular culture.

Journal Register Company, which owns the New Haven Register, Middletown Press and Register Citizen, filed for bankruptcy on Thursday in an effort to shed “legacy obligations” that include significant debt, pension liabilities and expensive long-term leases on buildings we no longer use.

What does this mean for the newsrooms that I lead as editor of JRC’s newspapers in Connecticut?

Bottom line: It’s a big, pain-in-the-ass distraction in the short-term – due to misunderstanding about what bankruptcy means and why we’re doing it – but a huge long-term benefit that aims to keep our local news operations in business for years to come.

Twitter, Facebook and comments on Jim Romenesko’s blog about the media industry (my original post referred only to “Jim Romenesko’s blog” … I meant comments, not that Jim had written anything inaccurate) were full yesterday with misconceptions about this announcement. Let me tackle a few of them:

Myth #1 – Journal Register is filing for bankruptcy because a “digital first” approach hasn’t worked.

JRC’s print advertising revenue has declined at almost exactly the same rate as the rest of the newspaper industry over the past two years, while its digital advertising grew much faster than the rest of the industry. Through its focus on the web, video and mobile, the company did a better job than the rest of the industry in replacing print losses with digital growth. It remains very profitable on an operating basis. The issue is not results compared to the rest of the industry, but the big structural issues of a business that committed to major debt, lease obligations and a pension system that was based on a much bigger company built on a print advertising base that doesn’t exist anymore. There are numerous other newspaper companies faced with the same – or worse – issues. Some of them could take the same step JRC took yesterday at any time. I expect some will sooner rather than later. I feel a lot better about the strength of JRC after this process than I would working at a company that hasn’t confronted the pension time bomb and debt, or a company whose ownership situation is still in doubt. (For example, Tribune, which owns the Hartford Courant, is still in bankruptcy, four years and $231 million on bankruptcy lawyer fees after filing.)

Myth #2 – Journal Register has cut newsroom budgets.

In the days before John Paton took over as CEO, absolutely, JRC made significant cuts to newsroom budgets. We cut newsrooms even when times were (in hindsight) very good. But since Paton took over two and a half years ago, newsroom spending has remained flat. That’s a remarkable achievement in the environment and economy of today, and I’d challenge you to find another major newspaper company that hasn’t cut newsroom spending over that time period. It should be noted that at some individual JRC newspapers, newsroom staffing might be down compared to two years ago, but overall across the company, it’s flat. And as recently as last week in Connecticut, we announced an expansion of newsroom staff in Middletown and Torrington with the addition of a full-time investigative reporting position focused on use of the Freedom of Information Act.

Myth #3 – Journal Register employees will lose their pensions.

Again, this is just me talking, but the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. covers the past and present JRC employees who have pensions, regardless of what happens in the bankruptcy process. No one’s retirement is at risk.

Myth #4 – The bankruptcy filing represents a change in ownership and/or change in strategy.

While the Chapter 11 “auction” process calls for soliciting bids for the purchase of the company, a new “affiliate” of Alden Global Capital, the current owner of JRC and the holder of its debt, has submitted a “stalking horse bid” with the intention and hope of emerging as the owner after a process expected to take about 90 days. Speaking just for me (can’t say that enough), do the math, and-or talk to industry analysts and you’ll realize that the chances of anyone else making a serious bid for the company, although possible, are very unlikely. So, in theory, JRC would emerge from bankruptcy with the same ownership and same leadership, minus the huge structural legacy obligations that endanger the long-term health of our newspapers. And in theory, it would continue to be full steam ahead on the “digital first” strategy. Why? Because it has gotten better results than the rest of the industry. (See above.)

I have worked for Journal Register Company for nine years now, as a local editor, a corporate director of news, a publisher and now as group editor of our Connecticut newspapers and northeast regional editor for JRC and Digital First Media newspapers in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts and Vermont.

I was there for “the old JRC,” focused 100 percent on print and practically 0% on journalism. I was there when help wanted classified revenue dropped 75 percent in a single year at the height of the economic downturn when I was publisher in Torrington. I was there through the “first” JRC bankruptcy, prior to John Paton’s arrival. And I’ve been here for the Paton era.

Never in my history with JRC has more attention and focus been placed (right from the top of the company) on improving local journalism, and never has editorial investment been so strong in relation to the overall economic picture of the company and the industry.

As Joshua Benton of Nieman Lab explains in this excellent analysis of yesterday’s filing, the JRC bankruptcy maneuver could be the newspaper industry’s first true chance at emerging out from under the print legacy millstone that has led to continual newsroom cuts at other companies, has made them too inflexible to compete in a digital age and endangers the future of local news reporting in many communities across the country.

New position to focus on Freedom of Information reporting

30 Aug

Journal Register Company newspapers in Connecticut took another big step this morning toward building their newsrooms around the key areas of breaking news, community engagement and investigative and in-depth reporting.

Viktoria Sundqvist

Viktoria Sundqvist has been named to the newly created position of Investigations Editor at The Register Citizen and The Middletown Press.

She’ll have a particular focus on use of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act – using it in her own reporting, advocating for consistent enforcement of the law across our coverage area, and teaching reporters and readers how to use it effectively.

The role was inspired by the work that Mike Donoghue has done with the Burlington Free Press in Vermont in integrating Freedom of Information Act requests into his newspaper’s reporting. In the process, Mike and his colleagues have improved government and law enforcement transparency and strengthened the law itself by using it often and training public officials in openness.

In addition to reporting, Viktoria will be writing about open records and open meetings topics on her “Open Records Connecticut” blog and @ctfoi Twitter feed.

Her role will also include taking the lead on local reporting that plugs into investigative and enterprise projects led by Journal Register Company partners, including Pro Publica and the Associated Press.

Viktoria has served as editor of The Middletown Press the past three years, and before that was managing editor of The Register Citizen, giving her exposure to the issues associated with both coverage areas.

John Berry, online editor at the Times Herald in Norristown, Pennsylvania, is taking over as editor of The Register Citizen and The Middletown Press. Ann DeMatteo, a veteran reporter and bureau chief at the New Haven Register, has been named managing editor of The Middletown Press, and will be responsible for day-to-day news operations there.

Viktoria’s appointment is the second phase of an investment in investigative and in-depth reporting that started last December with the creation of a new investigations editor position at the New Haven Register, filled by Michelle Tuccitto Sullo, and a new beat dedicated to “explainer”-style and “fact check” reporting.

JRC Connecticut newspapers win big in Local Media Association contest

28 Mar

Journal Register Company newspapers in Connecticut have won 33 awards in the 2011 editorial contest of the Local Media Association, formerly known as the Suburban Newspapers of America.

The New Haven Register was among the top daily newspaper winners with 15 awards, including 2nd place in the country for Best Sports Section and first place in the country for best reporting on local education.

The Litchfield County Times was among the top weekly newspaper winners in the country with 8 awards.

Journal Register Company beat out all other newspaper companies with 102 awards total.

Click here for the full list of awards.

Click here for a slide show of award-winning photos from our Connecticut staff.

The full list of winners from JRC Connecticut:

- 1st place, Best Coverage of Local Education, New Haven Register. Reporting by Abbe Smith.

- 1st place, Best Column Writing, New Haven Register. “Inspirations” column by Ann DeMatteo.

- 1st place, Best Headline, New Haven Register. “Pain in the Gas” by Mheegan Rollins.

- 1st place, Best Sports Photo, New Haven Register. “Yale football” by Arnold Gold.

- 1st place, Best Feature Photo, New Haven Register. “Essex Steam Train” by Peter Casolino.

- 2nd place, Best Sports Section, New Haven Register. Sports Editor Sean Barker and team.

- 2nd place, Best News Photo, New Haven Register. “Hurricane Irene” by William Kaempffer.

- 2nd place, Best Continuing Coverage, New Haven Register. “Interstate 95 project” by Ed Stannard.

- 2nd place, Best Feature Series, New Haven Register. “The Good Fight” by Jim Shelton.

- 3rd place, Best Headline, New Haven Register. “Hello, Good Buys” by Mheegan Rollins.

- 3rd place, Best Photojournalism, New Haven Register.  “Hurricane Irene, the Day After,” by Peter Casolino.

- 3rd place, Best Environmental Coverage, New Haven Register. “Zombie Dump” by Ann DeMatteo.

- Honorable Mention, Best News Photo, New Haven Register. “Bike Man in Snow” by Peter Hvizdak.

- Honorable Mention, Best Feature Photo, New Haven Register. “Snow Graphic” by Melanie Stengel.

- Honorable Mention, Best Feature, New  Haven Register. “When Politics Seeps into Breast Milk” by Sandi Shelton.

- 1st place, Best Special Section, The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT: Forging Tomorrow’s New England Experience)

- Honorable Mention, Best In-Depth Reporting, The Register Citizen

- 2nd place, Community Service Award, Middletown Press (Shovel Brigade)

- 2nd place, Best Wildcard Product, The Register Citizen (Every Town Has a Green)

- 2nd place, Best Arts and Entertainment Coverage, Middletown Press

- 1st place, Best Entertainment-Lifestyle Section, Litchfield County Times (Passport Magazine)

- 2nd place, Best Entertainment-Lifestyle Section, Litchfield County Times (LCT Magazine)

- 2nd place, Best Special Section, Litchfield County Times

- 2nd place, Best Opinion Column, Litchfield County Times

- 2nd place, Best Local Business Coverage, Litchfield County Times

- 2nd place, Best Sports Photo, Litchfield County Times

- 3rd place, Best Environmental Coverage, Litchfield County Times

- 3rd place, Best Editorial Writing, Litchfield County Times

- 2nd place, Best Sports Section, Housatonic Times

- 2nd place, Best Column Writing, Housatonic Times

- 3rd place, Best News Photo, Housatonic Times

- Honorable Mention, Best Entertainment-Lifestyle Section, Housatonic Times

- 2nd place, Best Editorial Writing, Westport Minuteman

Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe celebrates one-year anniversary

16 Dec

Hard to believe, but it’s been one year since The Register Citizen launched a “Newsroom Cafe” and invited its audience to be involved at every step in the process of local journalism.

Boiling it down, we’ve learned that:

Managing Editor Emily M. Olson leads a workshop for local organizations and church groups on how to get information published by The Register Citizen.

- Transparency builds trust.

- Openness improves your journalism, leading to new and more diverse sources and improving accuracy and context.

- Partnerships make you stronger.

As Andy Carvin said recently, it’s not about “leveraging your audience.” It’s about listening and knowing how the audience is telling its own story, and in some ways acting as a facilitator as the community organizes itself around common interests or goals.

If you feel that you must own and control every piece of content and platform for delivery, you will wither and die in isolation from the networked world.

In terms of tactical lessons learned over the past year, we’ve found that:

- There will never be a good time to commit time to audience engagement, becoming more transparent, trying new things and training staff, especially in a newsroom as small as ours. You have to “just do it.”

- Effective community engagement won’t happen on your terms, it will happen on the audience’s terms. Their lives don’t revolve around your internal process or desire to get a story done. But the power of the crowd can be amazing when you’ve tapped into something that citizens care deeply about and are either already organizing around or have been waiting for a platform to organize around. Readers (for the most part) aren’t going to tune in to the live stream of your daily story meeting because they care about what you talk about every day. They’re going to tune in because they know you’ll be discussing a particular issue that affects their neighborhood, workplace or family. Or the ideal – they’ll tune in because they feel welcomed to bring up that issue to you because you HAVEN’T been discussing it and they think you should.

- The logistics of community engagement deserve a dedicated staff position (or positions), but it’s a principle that must be incorporated into everything we do and taken up by everyone in the newsroom.

- “Just do it” should be the mantra given the urgent need to transform our business model and how quickly things around us change. But we need to spend more time along the way communicating internally and making sure that every employee understands and buys in to the underlying principles of openness and engagement. You can be undermined pretty quickly by staff who are just going through the motions.

Significant articles that have been written about the Newsroom Cafe experiment and/or its role in the JRC turnaround over the past year:

GigaOm, “For Newspapers, the Future is Now and Digital Must Be First,” December 2, 2010

New York Times, “Walk in, Grab a Muffin, and Watch a Newspaper Reinvent Itself,” December 15, 2010

Poynter, “Register Citizen Takes Analog Approach to Reader Engagement: Open Doors,” December 16, 2010

Suburban Newspapers of America, “Opening Up Your Newsroom,” March 7, 2011

Editor & Publisher, “10 Newspapers That Do It Right,” March 15, 2011

Nieman Lab, “Journal Register’s Open Advisory Meeting: Bell, Jarvis and Rosen Put Those New Media Maxims to the Test,” March 25, 2011

Poynter, “At Washington Post and Register Citizen, ‘report-an-error’ forms make it easier to identify, respond to mistakes,” April 4, 2011

NewspaperTurnaround.Com blog, “Why Our Small Town Daily is Adding a Full-Time Curator,” April 20, 2011

JoyMayer.Com, “Inside the Engagement Experiments at The Register Citizen,” May 4, 2011

Columbia Journalism Review, “John Paton’s Big Bet,” July/August 2011

EditorsWeblog.Org, “JRC’s Jim Brady: Uniting Digital First With a Face-to-Face Approach,” September 5, 2011

Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe blog, “What the Newsroom Cafe Has Taught Us About Improving Local Journalism,” September 13, 2011

The Associated Press, Open Connecticut Newsroom Wins APME Innovation Award,” September 15, 2011

American Journalism Review, “Wooing Them With Coffee,” October/November 2011

Connecticut Newsroom blog, “Corrections, Fact Checking and Accountability: Our New Approach,” October 26, 2011

Annenberg Innovation Lab paper by Melanie Sill, “The Case for Open Journalism Now,” December 7, 2011

John Paton’s “Digital First” blog, “New Media’s New Role as Both Medium and Messenger in a World of Partnerships,” December 13, 2011

Investigative and in-depth reporting bolstered by ‘Digital First’

28 Nov

“What about the journalism?”

That’s the question media analyst Ken Doctor asked a few months ago about both the philosophy of a “digital first” approach to running newspapers and the newly formed company “Digital First” Media that now oversees both Journal Register Company (including the New Haven Register, Middletown Press and Register Citizen, among other publications, in Connecticut) and Media News Group (ranging from the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News to the Berkshire Eagle and Lowell Sun in Massachusetts).

Michelle Tuccitto Sullo

CEO John Paton has a plan that many see as the best hope for rescuing the newspaper industry (in case you missed it, see the recent New York Times story here, and a more extensive Times interview with Paton here).

Will Paton’s formula of cutting print edition-related costs and emphasizing Flip cameras, mobile phones and Twitter improve local journalism or leave a multi-platformed but shallow and empty reproduction in its place?

At the end of the day, Doctor asked, “Are the readers, the citizens of its communities, better served?”

Without question, Journal Register Company news organizations are serving their communities better in breaking news situations thanks to the philosophy of “Digital First.” Hurricane Irene was a great example. When it comes to speed and use of platforms beyond print – from SMS alerts, to social media, blogging, video – we are light years ahead of where we used to be, and our audience has benefited.

But what about depth, context, investigative reporting?

It has taken longer to bear fruit, but as Digital First shifts emphasis away from the print production process, it is freeing up resources to invest in better journalism. And “slow news” – journalism that delves deeply into a story, that invests staff time in investigative work – has a prominent place alongside the breakneck pace of breaking news alerts.

This morning, we announced a newsroom reorganization in Connecticut that will establish a full-time investigations editor position at the New Haven Register for the first time in more than 20 years. A second full-time position will be devoted to the “explainer” format of in-depth reporting on local and state issues and “fact checking” statements made by politicians, public officials, activists and business leaders.

Mary O'Leary

Michelle Tuccitto Sullo, who joined the Register in 1992 and has covered courts and served as Naugatuck Valley bureau chief, will be charged not only with pursuing investigative stories on her own, but in creating a culture of investigative reporting in the newsrooms of the New Haven Register and its sister JRC papers in Connecticut. She’ll team up with staff reporters to pursue stories that the daily grind of a beat don’t allow them to pursue. Michelle draws upon strong knowledge of court and Freedom of Information Act process and award-winning investigative experience in writing about cold case murder and missing persons cases.

New Haven Register Topics Editor Mary O’Leary, who has 31 years of experience covering state government and a variety of other beats at the paper, will be freed from chasing the press conference of the day to focus on in-depth reporting. She will split her time between “explainers” and “fact checking” – both aimed at cutting through the “he said, she said” blizzard of political spin and process to help our readers get to the truth.

We are creating these positions and replacing Michelle and Mary in their old beats, for a big net increase in our “feet on the street” reporting. And we’re doing that by consolidating positions that were focused either entirely or primarily on the process of putting out the print edition of the newspaper.

Big news for our company and the newspaper industry

7 Sep

When John Paton took over as CEO of Journal Register Companyin early 2010 and laid out a vision for our struggling, old-school newspaper company that called for a rapid “Digital First, Print Last” transformation, one got the sense that it was one of the first tremors in a possible upheaval and revolution for the entire newspaper industry.

John Paton

Well, if Paton’s changes at JRC (owner of the New Haven Register, Middletown Press, Register Citizen, Connecticut Magazine and a number of weekly publications in Connecticut) were tremors, this morning was the earthquake.

This morning’s announcement of the formation of Digital First Media and Paton’s appointment as CEO of both Media News Group and Journal Register Company means that Paton’s vision and strategy will be spread to a huge footprint of the U.S. newspaper industry.

For those who care about quality journalism and the communities that these newspapers and websites serve, it’s wonderful news. Not just because Paton is pursuing a new business model for newspapers that show a path toward survival and sustainability, but because he’s passionate about journalism itself.

Newsrooms join forces to prepare for Hurricane Irene

26 Aug

There’s nothing like a looming major natural disaster (in a state not used to major natural disasters) to test a new model of viewing Journal Register Company’s journalists in Connecticut as members of one big newsroom instead of disconnected silos.

It also really helps when Steve Buttry is your company’s director of community engagement. He has used his experience leading a newsroom in flood-ravaged Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2008 to teach journalists about covering natural disasters. Among many tips and pieces of advice Steve has offered us on the fly was to have everyone who is going to be involved in this weekend’s hurricane coverage read Brian Stelter‘s account of his coverage of the tornado in Joplin earlier this year.

On Thursday morning, we kicked into high gear after hearing that Hurricane Irene is on a path similar to the Hurricane of 1938, which killed more than 600 people and is considered the worst natural disaster in the history of Connecticut.

Editors at our three dailies, the New Haven Register, Middletown Press and The Register Citizen, along with weekly editors at the Litchfield County Times on Connecticut’s shoreline, exchanged dozens of emails, phone calls and Twitter messages Thursday divvying up coverage of Governor Dannel Malloy’s press updates, the latest tracking from the National Weather Service and other aspects of emergency management preparations.

Reporters throughout the state were asked to start asking local officials about areas in their communities that are historically prone to flooding or tree damage. New Haven Register Entertainment Editor Jordan Fenster compiled them on a Google Doc spreadsheet, and from her office in Torrington, Register Citizen Community Engagement Editor Kaitlyn Yeager started syncing them up to a Google Map.

The result was a series of embeddable maps covering our entire coverage area in Connecticut that visualized high-risk flooding areas for readers to avoid, as well as locations of emergency shelters and evacuation routes.

Meanwhile, New Haven Register staff were lining up a live online chat with Dr. Mel Goldstein, the beloved Connecticut TV weather man who announced his retirement only a few days before the type of event that can be the highlight of a meteorologist’s career. That’s scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Friday and will be embedded on Journal Register Company websites throughout the state.

Weekend plans (the worst of Irene is now predicted to hit Connecticut during the day on Sunday) include an “all hands on deck” approach to staffing, but with designated editors clearly responsible for handling specific areas such as SMS text message alerts (something we are promoting heavily since the state expects widespread power outages, possibly cutting off Internet access for many), curation of readers’ reports on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, handling the “rewrite” desk that will field phone and text message reports from reporters in the field, and processing and presenting staff and user-submitted photos and video.

And the advantage of acting as one statewide newsroom, of course, is that one person can be marshaling SMS alerts or scouring YouTube for multiple sites, whereas those functions would require diversion from field reporting or likely not even happen in some parts of our coverage area if everyone was operating independently.

Newsroom staff from across the state are also working together to make sure that we have a row of Netbooks with batteries charged, Droids and Flip cameras to put in the hands of reporters, and of course, rain gear. And to get that print edition out, a row of desktop computers are being loaded with all the necessary templates, logos and ad files, and will be driven to an alternative printing site should the New Haven Register lose electricity.

Curating an earthquake

24 Aug

You couldn’t draw up a better example of a breaking news story that called for audience engagement to be at the center of news reporting.

Gateway students text friends and family after being evacuated from the building because of earthquake tremors Tuesday. Melanie Stengel/New Haven Register

That’s in part because Tuesday’s earthquake – centered in Virginia but felt as far away as New Hampshire and Vermont – was experienced by close to 100 percent of our audience in Connecticut.

So after the desks stopped shaking at the New Haven Register, Middletown Press, The Register Citizen in Torrington and Litchfield County Times in New Milford, editors and reporters turned first to TwitterFacebook and YouTube, to gauge the extent of how the quake was felt locally and across the region, how it was disrupting workplaces, public safety operations and airline and rail travel, and the extent of damage, if any.

Editors’ first step was to send out SMS text message alerts to readers’ mobile phones, confirming that what they just felt was, indeed, an earthquake – 5.8 on the Richter scale. A breaking news email alert followed.

Simultaneously, Twitter was used to report the news, both with original information and a retweeting of reports from throughout the coverage area of readers’ reactions the quakes and institutions’ reports of evacuating buildings or halting events. Readers started chiming in via Facebook and story comments on our websites, and the most interesting and relevant information provided by the audience was incorporated into our main story.

Editors set up a real-time feed of Twitter reactions with the hashtag “#earthquake.” It was an interesting thing to watch, as more than 40,000 Tweets were sent out about the earthquake within a minute of the first tremor. Then they used the curation tool Storify to collect local Twitter reactions and present them in story format. An editor at a sister publication in Pennsylvania even created an “earthquake humor” Storify of the best jokes to hit Twitter about the situation.

Flip camera-wielding beat reporters on assignment in downtown New Haven and reporters and photographers covering the New Haven Open pro women’s tennis tournament were submitting video within minutes of the quake. Sports writer Dan Nowak’s Flip camera video of the evacuation of the tennis stadium at Yale was picked up and used on the national NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams Tuesday evening.

Early in the process, our sites linked to an “explainer” on why earthquakes happen in New England and how they’re different from West Coast quakes.

And of course, reporters made all of the old-style beat calls to local fire departments, city hall, the public utilities and other “official sources.”

But for Journal Register Company newsrooms in Connecticut on Tuesday, crowdsourcing and a digital first toolbox of equipment, technology and mindset spread news of the earthquake as fast and as effectively as any breaking news story, ever, in the history of our newspapers.

That speed paid immediate dividends in audience growth. Because the weekly Litchfield County Times posted within seconds of confirmation of the earthquake, monthly unique visitors went from an average of about 100 an hour to nearly 1,000 after the news broke.  A high percentage of that traffic came from Yahoo and Google searches. Traffic on the daily sites tripled for the same reason, and the constant addition to and enrichment of earthquake content kept readers on the site throughout the afternoon.

And the testament to how far we’ve come in embracing a “digital first” mindset is that this happened almost completely on its own … It was second nature for New Haven Register Managing Editor Mark Brackenbury, City Editor Helen Bennett Harvey and reporters and editors throughout the newsroom in New Haven, Torrington, New Milford, Middletown, both in news and sports. I certainly didn’t have anything to do with it. And no corporate deep thinker had to pick up the phone and suggest it. Our reporters and editors know how to use these tools now and when to use them. They are eager to get the audience involved. It’s part of the culture now. And Tuesday’s earthquake experience gives us the confidence to further embrace it as the new normal. It’s an exciting proposition.

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