Feature

Newspaper Brands Online: A day in the life www.guardian.co.uk

The guardian.co.uk editor, Janine Gibson, gives a gripping account of Tuesday 7 April, the day the site revealed footage of Ian Tomlinson, taken just before his death at London's G20 protests

2am

I was not awake at 2am. Let's be clear about that. But our story begins at 2am with the Guardian reporter Paul Lewis pressing refresh on an inbox waiting for a video to drop. Eight hours earlier, he had received an e-mail from New York. The e-mailer says he has been reading Paul's reports of eyewitnesses to the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests. And would Paul be interested in using some footage he has found on his mobile phone? He'll have to send the footage from home, hence the eight-hour wait. It turns out to be something that ensures Paul doesn't sleep and the rest of the day is conducted at ferocious speed.

Since the G20 protests took place six days ago, Paul has been chasing up and tracking down protesters and witnesses whose version of what happened that day differs from the official police version. The line that Tomlinson died of a heart attack in an unrelated incident and the police were stopped from trying to assist him by protesters throwing bottles has been widely accepted by the rest of the media and widely demolished by the people Paul has spoken to. His reports, however, have been all too easily dismissed as the words of partisan observers.

It's significant, I think, that his stories have been published in The Guardian and on guardian.co.uk. They've clearly reached New York. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

9am

At our first news meeting of the day, it is apparent that Paul has something. We will reconvene after the main conference to discuss what he has and what to do. The head of news, business and sport, Paul Johnson, has a gleam that can only be described as "bloody good story alert".

11am

Meeting in conference room. Paul Lewis talks us through what he's got. He builds the story through the various eyewitness accounts he has gathered over the last week. Twenty-seven at the last count, all enabling him to track the movements of Tomlinson as he attempted to cross the cordoned-off City of London. Paul has drawn a map of Tomlinson's route and marked the various places where he has sightings of him. The work is forensic. It's like an episode of CSI.

But then, big reveal, he shows us the video footage from the mobile phone of the New York banker, clearly showing Tomlinson being struck and thrown to the ground by the police. Tomlinson is obviously walking away, hands down, with his back to the wall of officers. The footage is crystal clear on the big screen in our meeting room. The news editors, lawyers, managing editor, head of PR, all gasp.

11.30am

How best to present the story? There are so many elements to cover. We need to slow down the footage, get Paul to record a voiceover to describe what we are seeing, much as he did when showing it to us in the meeting room. Then we need an interactive version of Paul's map - showing the statements and Tomlinson's journey. Paul needs to write a background piece giving a full narrative of events. He also needs to write the hard news piece, which will end up leading the site and the paper.

He also needs to talk to Tomlinson's family - with whom he has already established a good relationship - and show them what he's got, well before we publish, something he is very concerned about, having had many dealings with them already. Our various teams set to work - graphics, pictures, maps, video - but everyone needs a piece of Paul.

11.42am

The news editor, David Taylor, quite rightly points out that there's going to be an issue around access to Paul, who really needs to report the story rather than become a cross-media production hub. This is absolutely true and crucial and David is completely right to shield Paul. However, can we just have a voiceover for the video?

12pm

I bribe Paul to go to our audio studios to record the voiceover at 1pm, with the promise that there will be a sandwich waiting for him. How he's going to do it and eat at the same time I leave to the miracles of modern technology.

1pm

Sandwich and Paul are in the audio studio. Result.

3pm

All the elements that we plotted in the 11am meeting are well underway. The interactive graphic for the web has a print sibling and the video is nearing readiness. We now face the question of when to publish the story. The fact that the video is the story makes some of the decision making easy. It's clearly going to live digitally - you have to see the video to understand the sea change in the level of evidence being presented as to the way Tomlinson died. There's a natural tension between breaking stories online and holding them back for the next day's paper. Do you publish digitally and hope to reach the biggest global audience as quickly as possible? Or do you hold stories back for the next day's paper, running the risk that other newspaper websites will have published a version of your story before your own has hit the web? Do you publish at lunchtime? Tea time? Midnight? 7am? These are hard questions for any news organisation at the moment and we are at the infancy of these decisions, particularly where video is concerned. We have little in the way of precedent and not much to go on but gut feel and knowledge of time zones. We decide to release it around 6pm and alert the evening television news bulletins; let them see the footage if they want and let them use it in exchange for on-screen credit.

We want to release the footage to other websites and YouTube so it can be embedded in anyone's blog, but not until the following morning.

4.30pm

We've agreed to put up the main story and the video just before 6pm. Paul is currently with the Tomlinson family, showing them the video and the evidence he has gathered as to how their family member died.

4.45pm

The web team are starting to focus on how best to tell Google (and therefore the wider world) about this scoop. At this stage, the name Ian Tomlinson isn't really known. He is simply "the man who died during the G20 protests" to a world which has largely forgotten about him. That's not an easy phrase to show a search engine. Our subs start discussing what furniture to give the story to try to match the search terms people will use when they've heard about it but haven't yet seen the video. This is not dissimilar to playing Animal, Vegetable, Mineral in reverse: trying to take what you know back to its constituent parts. "What about G20 protest death?"; "Or Video G20 police assault?". We need keywords, slugwords, headlines, captions and link text to explain what we have and how it relates to what you think you know.

5.15pm

Everyone is eyeing Paul. He is at his computer.

5.22pm

Seven minutes is a very long time.

5.45pm

Story is with the subs. Several people are standing behind the subs "being helpful". The guardian.co.uk front page is being remade to take in the story. The front page editor's finger is hovering nervously over the "Live" button. "Don't press that button yet," I offer, equally helpfully.

5.53pm

Story is live. Video is live. We send the headline and the link to the story out via Twitter to my meagre handful of followers. It immediately starts to be re-Tweeted by first Guardian staff and then strangers, all of whom express their anger at what they've seen. As an instant response to a story, Twitter is a barometer of whether you've hit the mark. The ripples suddenly become waves and, as the Guardian's technology editor, Charles Arthur, harnesses the mighty half-million followers of the Guardian Tech feed, an onslaught of clicks and re-Tweets. Using a URL-shortening tool called bit.ly, we can track the clicks as the story travels - clicks from the UK, from the US, from Brazil, all round the world. It shows us minute by minute how the story spread and where it was read.

We start typing our carefully chosen search words into Google, but the story doesn't show up. It can take up to an hour for a story to surface on Google News, we reassure ourselves.

6.30pm

Story is on the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Times websites. The Times and the Telegraph are both linking to our video. The Mail has taken some screen grabs. The Channel 4 news presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy has Tweeted: "@janinegibson this is massive surely ... not in office today but hope it's been offered to the broadcasters."

We've said all day that we will hand over everything we've got to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for their inquiry; something that's made easier by the fact that we are effectively publishing everything we've got, from Paul's map to the witness statements, date- and time-stamped on the interactive graphic, the video and the stills, on the web. Paul Johnson is nonetheless on the phone to the IPCC reassuring them that they will have access to our material.

7.15pm

The story is the second lead on Channel 4 News.

9pm

The police have arrived at the Guardian offices in King's Place. Paul Johnson is dispatched to talk to a representative of the IPCC who is here with the City of London Police. They want us to take the story down. "What you're doing is upsetting the family," they tell him. Well, we doubt that because the family are downstairs talking to Paul Lewis as we speak. Then they ask us to take the video off the site. Paul reiterates that our material is available to them but we are not taking the story down.

10pm

The story is a long package at the top of the BBC's 10pm bulletin and Newsnight. It will go on to lead the Today programme at 7am and it will be on the front page of just about every national newspaper tomorrow. The IPCC will launch an investigation, order a new inquest into the cause of the death and suspend the relevant police officer pending the result of the inquiry. It is a job extraordinarily well done.

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