Digital Deadline: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kirkwood Shooting


CSJ-09-0014.0 This case addresses how to manage a breaking story online when it could have traumatic effects on the local community. It also raises the challenges of deciding what to put in the newspaper once a story has broken on the newspaper’s website. On the evening of February 7, 2008, a gunman shot several officials at a City Council meeting in the quiet St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, Missouri. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a stringer at the meeting, Janet McNichols. Editors quickly realized that (apart from a small local paper) they had exclusive access to the story, which they chose to break online. While McNichols was horrorstricken, her reports seemed reliable. Dilemmas arose, however, when police were slower to provide information than McNichols. What should the website report, especially about fatalities? Errors could be devastating, yet to omit critical information from news reports was irresponsible journalism. As night approached, so did the deadline for the next day’s paper. With so much information on the Web, editors debated what to put in the paper that would satisfy both Web and print readers.

The class can follow the evolution of online reporting as it played out in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newsroom. Students will have an opportunity to discuss how the rise of online reporting has affected the paper news product, and the trade-offs and compromises involved. The case also can serve as a basis for debate on crisis reporting. It gives students insight into the special role of a local news outlet in the face of an unfolding calamity. It puts them in the shoes of editors who must decide how much weight to give its own reporter’s uncorroborated but eyewitness account versus waiting for official confirmation.

The case can be used in a course or class on crisis reporting; about newspaper website development; or on the role of local news organizations.


This case was written by Kathleen Gilsinan for the Knight Case Studies Initiative, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University. The faculty sponsor was Assistant Professor Duy Linh Tu. The Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) produced the multimedia, online product. James R. Garfield was the project coordinator, and Zarina Mustapha was the website designer. Funding was provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. (0409)

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