Too much tornado?

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Why would the TC Daily Planet cover the North Minneapolis tornado at all? And how much coverage should we publish? With limited resources, we usually focus on the untold stories, and whatever else can be said about the North Minneapolis tornado, it was never an untold or under-reported story. I felt comfortable Sunday afternoon in watching other people’s coverage, and not worrying about assigning anyone to cover the tornado stories.

Then the emails arrived, with stories and photos from our contributors. So, some time before 7 a.m. on Monday, we published our first tornado story with photos and with information on where to go to volunteer, to get food and help, or for official information.  By Monday afternoon, we had two more stories, both (like the first) reported from the North Side, by people who know the neighborhood.

That’s a good reason for publishing tornado coverage. We try to report neighborhood news, from the neighborhoods, and these stories came right out of North Minneapolis. So did Thursday’s story, from the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, a first-person account from James Stroud and Stephani Maari Booker. And Jeff Skrenes’ blog post blasting media that inaccurately reported looting and disorder, instead of the real story of a neighborhood pulling together, and neighbors helping each other.

Readers appreciated the tornado coverage. We had more clicks on the tornado stories in the first 24 hours than on all other stories combined. That might seem like an argument for publishing more coverage, to get more clicks on the site. (On a similar note, one person in the two delegations of international visitors during the past week asked why we don’t have more “girls in bikinis” on the site, which he claimed was the way that news sites successfully attract youthful readers.)

It’s tempting to try for intensive tornado coverage, both because of the clicks and because of the drama, but that’s not where we put our (limited) resources.

We didn’t cover the tornado story because it was news; we covered it because it happened on our beat. Our citizen reporters cover the neighborhood beat whether that means telling it like it is when a tornado hits or shining a light on the stories that deserve more attention than they are getting. For example, Sheila Regan was already working on a story on Sisters Camelot’s recent expansion, and their work on the North Side became part of that story.

As we keep looking for the big and small stories across the Twin Cities, we count on our community of readers to tell their own stories, to tell us what they think needs to be reported, and to support our efforts in whatever way they can.

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