Four days before the Northern Star, the student newspaper at Northern Illinois University, was planning to roll out its new 24-hour news operation and redesigned Web site, the paper faced one of its biggest stories in years: a severe storm followed by a flood that forced the campus to close.
The newspaper staff was in a training session for the revamped news site Thursday afternoon when the story broke.
"Assignments went out and reporters snapped into action," Managing Editor Michael Swiontek wrote in an opinion blog about the newspaper's response to the story. "It was what an exciting newsroom can be — scrambling to relay horrible news."
The paper managed to post three news updates on its Web site before its server went down Friday, Swiontek wrote. But the site was back up Monday, with lots of follow-up stories on the flood.
"We got on-the-job training," Swiontek wrote in his blog. "Last week’s news was perfect practice for a great semester of covering breaking news."
The Northern Star's new Web site is a model for college papers around the country. The staff has pledged to cover news as it breaks, putting stories online first and posting updates on major stories throughout the day.
"Our first and foremost priority now is the Web site," Online Editor Justin Smith wrote in a column about the revamped Web site.
In addition, the newspaper is beefing up its coverage with new media enhancements -- blogs, photo slideshows, Podcasts, maps, charts and other graphics. (In case you're wondering what the old site looked like you can see it on this post.)
If you're looking for inspiration, watch for the Northern Star.
And if you're a Northern Star staffer we'd love to hear more about the revamped, re-energized site. Post a comment here.