Amid an unfolding crisis, Dallas’s largest news source faced a crisis of its own.
An hour or so after shots were heard Thursday night in downtown Dallas, the Dallas Morning News’s website crashed. That left thousands of readers from around the world unable to access its coverage of the shooting that killed five police officers and left seven more people injured.
What’s more, the shooting unfolded just a few blocks from the News’s downtown offices, leading to a lockdown of the building. At one point, police feared that one of the gunmen had holed up in a hotel next door to the paper. For a time, Mike Wilson, the News’s editor, was unable to reenter his own workplace.
At 9:06 p.m. Central Time, the paper said on Twitter that its news site was “slow loading.” The apparent problem: So many people tried to access the site that its servers were “overwhelmed,” Wilson said in an interview Friday morning.
Via Twitter, the paper redirected readers to a “beta” site, one that the paper had intended to unveil Friday under less chaotic circumstances. The site, a redesigned version of the News’s existing site, carried some of the news that the paper’s staff was reporting.
However, readers who didn’t see the Twitter notification were repeatedly rebuffed in accessing the paper’s main site.
The newspaper deployed about 120 of its 270 journalists on the story, far more than any other local news organization, Wilson said. “I think it shows the great value of local journalism,” he said. “We do this at scale. . . . Obviously, this was a seismic event for the city. You have to cover something like this with the kind of scale that we had.”
Like many in his newsroom, Wilson had gone home for the day when the news began breaking at about 9 p.m. local time. He had settled in to watch a recording of the France-Germany soccer match when he received word that a protest march had broken up amid violence. He quickly scrambled to get back to the office, but the burgeoning chaos downtown made his usual 10-minute drive a 30-minute one. He said he circled the building several times before he was able to gain entry.
The paper delayed its first and second print editions by a half-hour early Friday morning to incorporate as much of the news as it could. The lead story on its front page – main headline: “AMBUSH” – carried contributions from more than 30 journalists.
Among the material reported by the News was a photograph of a tearful police officer hugging a medical worker at Baylor Hospital in the city. The image, taken by photographer Ting Shen, a summer intern, eventually led the print edition of the paper.
Despite the problems with its website – which was back online by Friday morning – the paper continued to a pump out a steady stream of news alerts, videos and photos via Twitter, Facebook Live and the beta site, suggesting that there are several workarounds when one digital platform fails. In all, said Wilson, “the vast majority” of readers who came to the paper seeking news were able to access it eventually via one platform or another.
“All in all, I thought we did really well,” said Wilson.