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Never too late for school closings

I spent a good chunk of yesterday/today trying to figure out how to get the J&C on the school closing contact lists of area districts.

Living in the Midwest, school closings and two-hour delays (a term I’d never heard of until I moved here) are fairly common. In the fall, schools without AC sometimes cancel class when temperatures/heat index top out in the 90s. In the winter, snow drifts out in the county or a not-so-impressive-or-efficient street crew in the cities can keep schools closed several days a year.

For years, when you woke up in the morning and looked out the window to a “marshmallow world,” you ran to your TV to catch the school closings ticker at the bottom of the local news station. Maybe you turned the radio on to the local radio station. Either way, the last place you looked or would ever think to look would be the newspaper stuck in the snow drift on your front porch.

Now, you don’t need to open your door to access the newspaper. And we can get the school closings posted online as fast if not faster than the TV stations can program them to scroll.

We’ve been working on training, for lack of a better word, local schools to call us since I got here. But nobody yet made a concentrated effort to get it done. When you have more than two dozen districts, let me tell you, it takes awhile to find the right person and get in contact with them and then figure out a system that works. The schools in this county are pretty good about calling. The superintendents/their designees often call me when they have cancellations. The outlying counties, especially those on the fringe or those with their own smaller town papers, aren’t as good. Yet. I’m working on it.

I had to actually pause when one of the outlying superintendent’s replied back to my e-mail that he would be glad to call us. But he said, it likely won’t be helpful since the decision is usually made when it’s too late to get in the paper. Yeah, I wrote back, but there is no deadline for the Web.

It’s a process. We’re working on finding ways to get the news in faster (for example, our morning reporting gets in at 5:45 a.m., so we have nothing posted between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.) and figuring out what news we should get up (everything?). And while we’re working on training the districts to give us a call/shoot us an e-mail, we’re also just as much training our readers to rely on us for that news.

2 Responses to “Never too late for school closings”

  1. shawn smith Says:

    This is something we’ve long thought about as well but have yet to pull off. I think some of the TV stations in our area have a hotline that the schools call and they all share that one hotline. Do the stations in your area have those? We haven’t yet approached anyone on this, but it’s a big project that would be incredibly important to readers. good luck!

  2. Meranda Says:

    Shawn — We only have one TV station based here. The rest of the stations are out of Indy, but some of those carry our local cancellations as well. We also have several radio stations. (Though, personally, the idea of waiting to hear it on the radio sounds crazy. Who would do that?!)

    We have an e-mail address set up that we’re using exclusively for breaking news from schools/police agencies. And we’re working on setting up a form online for other cancellations. I know a lot of stations have code words, etc., which is something I brought up with my editor. But we’re trying to keep it simple and will simply dial back to confirm. I don’t know about those TV stations sharing a single list — if they do it’s likely pilfered, not shared. But I could be wrong and have never worked in broadcast.

    Our biggest challenge, other than getting people to call us, is that we don’t always have the same person on those shifts. So we needed something centralized so that no matter who happens to come in that morning, the information gets there. We also need to train our staffers to take the calls, not just say “OH, it’s schools! Well, Meranda’s not around.” Or leave me messages that I don’t see for two hours when we should have gotten that news up immediately.

    As I said, it’s a process. We’ll see as we head into winter/school closing season how successful my hours of tracking people down has been and will be. And I’m sure we’ll find some hiccups and work them out as well.