Projo.com: City Hall on Trial

BEHIND THE SCENES: Projo.com, the Web site of The Providence Journal produced impressive coverage of the corruption trial of Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr., including Web-exclusive daily updates, audio, video and a tour of the courtroom. In this Behind the Scenes piece for CyberJournalist.net, Andrea Panciera, editor of projo.com, explains how it was done.

BEHIND THE SCENES: Projo.com, the Web site of The Providence Journal produced impressive coverage of the corruption trial of Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr., including Web-exclusive daily updates, audio, video and a tour of the courtroom. In this Behind the Scenes piece for CyberJournalist.net, Andrea Panciera, editor of projo.com, explains how it was done.


By Andrea Panciera
The trial of the colorful and controversial mayor of Providence and his co-defendants on 29 federal corruption charges had been a long time coming.
It was due to start in April 2002, three years after the FBI first raided City Hall as part of its Operation Plunder Dome probe into the administration of Vincent A. Cianci Jr. — known as “Buddy” by all, from downtown street denizens to national radio talk-show host Don Imus, who often had Cianci as a guest, where he raved about the renaissance his city had undergone.
In that time, projo.com and its newspaper parent, The Providence Journal, had gathered a wealth of information and expertise on the complex case – and the dark side of the mayor. We also knew that public interest was running high, making it a strong candidate to play off the strengths of the online environment, from constant updating and interactivity to archival reports and background information.
Yet it also posed special challenges.
Our first need was to guarantee continuous online updates. That meant dedicating our sole online reporter, David McPherson, to the project. With limited courtroom seating and a ban on electronic devices, he needed a coveted press pass and freedom of movement to file.
This was sorted out with the help of Providence Journal executive editor Joel Rawson, who spearheaded an effort to set ground rules for coverage. That led to the establishment of a pressroom at the courthouse, equipped with landline phones, and an “overflow” room where the no-cameras-allowed trial was shown on closed-circuit TV.
That enabled McPherson to station himself where he could quickly call in rough drafts during breaks and as big news broke. They were finessed and posted within a few minutes, primarily by projo.com editor Andrea Panciera.
Photos from outside court were added ASAP with the help of newspaper photographer Mary Murphy.
Breaking news was contained within a specially-designed table template for the home page, with the header City Hall on Trial, which allowed for fast updating, quick reads of text reports, and highlighting of special features such as polls, bios of the defendants, previous coverage and more. Different sizes were made in advance to match the importance of the news.
This table also served as a gateway to a continuing archive being compiled simultaneously in multmedia form and other key elements.
Through the use of an include, the same table was also published automatically on the interior news and metro sections of the site for readers who may have preferred those as their entry point.
As the updates were done, projo.com design staff jumped in, publishing a Flash version that included the update, photos and quotes. The movie provided a multimedia-style experience and archive. It also gave readers a unique window into the courtroom.
Before the trial, designers Mike Foran and Kathy Devault made sketches of the room, from which Devault built a three-dimensional model.They then drew the room from several angles, which served as a changing background to each day’s reports.
At lunch and day’s end, McPherson returned to the office to polish his stories, which were lauded by his peers and public for their completeness, accuracy and clarity.
Each night, projo.com added newspaper accounts to its online report, and the paper pointed its readers to updates and other online features. This process was followed from mid-April to late June, when the jury finally rendered its verdict. It continues today in the collection of Latest News reports, with stories on sentencings and the fallout at City Hall.
City Hall on Trial represents the latest in innovative coverage of special reports by projo.com in a joint effort with its print newsroom.
What is different about City Hall on Trial is our attempt to add a multi-media approach to a continuing, breaking-news story for several months. This time, we did not have weeks or even months to finesse our final project. At the same time, we were dedicating some of the same staff resources to a complete redesign of the entire site and adoption of a new publishing system.
We produced City Hall on Trial each day, on the fly — and we are proud of the results.

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