Going (somewhat) viral

Just over a week ago, the Delaware Department of Transportation went out to the Radnor Green neighborhood in Claymont and began removing basketball hoops that were planted in the parkway facing the street. Apparently, a resident in the neighborhood lodged a complaint after his car was hit by an errant basketball, and the hoops were found to be in violation of a 2005 “clear zone” law that requires the area adjacent to pavements in residential developments to be free of obstructions such as basketball hoops and bushes.

One resident apparently was not having any of it, and climbed her basketball pole in protest, causing DelDOT and the police presence that arrived in response to leave one pole shy of their goal. The photographer on scene shot some great photos of her pole protest, but we did not have a staff videographer on site (though a freelancer did arrive later and shoot an interview).

I strolled into the office three hours later and was told to head back out, see if any state troopers were still around and basically feel out the situation. Not knowing exactly what the freelancer shot, I thought I would conduct an interview just to cover my bases (after all, there must have been some reason they sent me back out). As luck would have it, the Delaware State Police and DelDOT returned to retrieve the last pole during the middle of my interview, affording me the chance to film the drama as it unfolded.

While I’m sure the video would have gotten some play on Libertarian sites just because of the general theme of government taking away from private citizens, the video because a plain-clothed officer informed the homeowner he could keep his basketball hoop one minute, and then seemingly did a 180, telling him that it would be taken away the next.

The story hit the frontpage of Reddit two times, was listed on Youtube’s main page and was featured on a few prominent national blogs. Of course, as with any news organization, the first thing some editors thought was, “How can we capitalize on/emulate this?” Whenever something brings in a large amount of traffic, even if it is a one off, it becomes the next hot thing and everyone tries to recreate the same numbers. In St. Cloud, they found success in posting photo galleries from parades and graduations, and we would bend over backwards to ensure that not a single one went uncovered. In Des Moines, prom season was especially hectic and you could always find a Metromix gallery on the frontpage.

At The News Journal, the video’s initial success meant that Mr. McCafferty was our life for the next week. From following him to a meeting with the state police, to accompanying him to pick up his hoop. I will admit, while we did have our doubts as we waited outside of the New Castle County Public Works building for over an hour just to talk to Mr. McCafferty about filing a complaint, the story and accompanying video did generate far more page views than other daily content.

Lessons learned:

  • Keep shooting (if it helps, turn off your tally light)
  • Don’t underestimate the power of social sites such as Reddit and YouTube (far more views came from these two sources than any other … I’m still surprised more news sites don’t regularly submit things to Reddit. It’s not like this is a new phenomena, Digg has come and gone and Slashdot before it)
  • Arrive early and stay late (It was always taught to me in j-school, yet I am constantly surprised at how many journalists show up late to assignments)
  • If something works, be prepared for someone to try and milk it

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