When FGCU won the Atlantic Sun tournament, our team went to work as well. And, hopefully, we've done as well as the Eagles. / Kinfay Moroti/news-press.com
What an anniversary present.
As I hit my three-year mark with The News-Press on Friday, I, along with the rest of Southwest Florida, was flying high on the Cinderella success of the FGCU men’s basketball team as they soared in the national spotlight.
Just as winter resident Thomas Edison long ago predicted, “There’s only one Fort Myers, and 90 million people are going to find out.”
I’ve had a marvelous time this week orchestrating our plans — akin to when I was vice president of advertising for The Seattle Times and the Seahawks made the Super Bowl in 2006. For a media company, these are the best of times. But it doesn’t come easily.
Our transformation from a once-a-day print paper to a 24/7 multimedia brand is an ongoing journey of learning and discovery, as Executive Editor Terry Eberle wrote last week. Our FGCU coverage epitomizes how we’ve changed, with live-time updates, tweets, videos, Facebook, digital ads, billboards, and, each morning, the best of the previous day captured and preserved in print.
Here’s a behind the scenes look at the past few weeks of Eagles mania, led by Terry, Sports Editor Ed Reed, Sports team leader Dan DeLuca, Breaking News Editor Mark Bickel and copy editors Dave Kaye and Robyn George.
• Saturday, March 9: Both the men’s and women’s teams play in Macon, Ga., for the Atlantic Sun Championships with the men going first. We send reporter Seth Soffian, who began covering FGCU full time a year ago, and photojournalist Kinfay Moroti.
We’re thrilled as the men beat the odds, upsetting Mercer 88-75 at about 2 p.m. Planning started immediately for a front page showing both the men and women in the NCAA.
Alas, in a heartbreaking reversal, the heavily favored women are unable to hold off Stetson, losing 70-64 at about 7:30 p.m.
The timing is important. Presses typically start for our final edition at 11:45 p.m., finishing by 2 a.m. Papers then are picked up at our Fort Myers office or trucked to our Bonita site to be bagged and loaded up by hundreds of independent contractors who usually deliver to homes and retailers by 6 a.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. weekends and holidays.
We are Lee County’s largest manufacturer. Any hiccup in this complex flow creates delays that can result in lost sales, irate customers and impatient contractors who may have second jobs. So we’re always weighing the latest news against deadlines. More on this later.
• Sunday, March 17: We had ample time to plan coverage of the announcement of seeds and brackets. One of Seth’s hundreds of tweets came from Alico Arena that night at 6:18 p.m.: No. 15 @FGCU_MBB (24-10) vs. No. 2 Georgetown (25-6) Friday in Philadelphia in first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. Georgetown!
• Monday, March 18: We craft an eight-page special that wraps around the Sports section. About 2000 free copies are delivered to FGCU — a service we’ll maintain throughout the tourney. We gain credentials to Philadelphia for Seth and Kinfay, again, along with Carl Bleich, former News-Press sports writer, and Justin Kane, an FGCU student and Eagle sports editor.
• Friday, March 22: Game time, 6:50 p.m. In a stunning second-half burst, the No. 15 Eagles outrun, outdunk and outshine No. 2 Georgetown to win 78-68. (We were the first to review the dunk statistics, concluding if the Eagles dunk five times or more, they will win the game.) It’s 9:10 p.m. FGCU is advancing to the round of 32, only the seventh time in history for a 15th seed.
• ESPN features our front pages on SportsCenter at 2 a.m. Immediately, The News-Press becomes the expert source as everyone yearns to know more about this underdog team from the edge of the world with a funny name and unusual style and a suave coach with a gorgeous model wife.
• Saturday, March 25: In a flurry of conversations, we discuss: What are we going to do if they win again tomorrow? How big of a deal is it? Really big, we decide—win or lose. So big we should produce a special four page wrap around the main section for Monday’s paper.
Through the day, we work to reconfigure the Monday newspaper. We reach out to boosters for quick decisions on advertising in this section, and bring in staff to create designs. We post digital celebration ads around town. We boost production by 30 percent.
• Sunday, March 24: 7:10 p.m. start: Eagles take on San Diego State and again stun the nation by roaring out in the second half to win 81-71. It’s 9:15 p.m. FGCU is in the Sweet 16, the first time ever for a 15th seed!
We will play against the Florida Gators on Friday at 10 p.m., after Michigan plays Kansas at 7:37. That’s the worst possible slot for us, for any media on the East Coast.
• Monday, March 25: Our four-page wrap is again picked up by ESPN, as well as FGCU player Sherwood Brown upon his return to school.
• We plot out scenarios — what if they win and win again; if they win and lose; if they lose. We reach out to booster clients with advertising opportunities; create a contest to win a trip to Friday’s game; figure out how to get Friday’s special section to Texas.
But we spend most of our time working production options for Saturday’s paper. Best case if both games are on schedule is a 12:30 a.m. final score. Worse case, 1:30 or later.
Regular deadlines would mean little to no news about the game. What’s the point of producing a paper without it? But does everyone really care? How late can we go? What’s too late? What’s the risk in cooperation of carriers or support from readers? Why can’t we just report it online—that’s what digital is all about.
We conclude this community expects and relies on the printed News-Press. If ever there was a time to break all the rules, this is it. So we completely redesign our flow to go to press at 1:30 a.m., giving us at best 45 minutes to complete a four-page special Eagles section. We will alert readers to expect a delay, and hope most will agree it’s worth waiting for.
This column had to go to press early, well before Friday’s game. But the outcome was already crystal clear: The Eagles and all of Southwest Florida are already winners.
Mei-Mei Chan is president and publisher of The News-Press Media Group. Her column runs the last Sunday of each month. Contact her at email@example.com