Just another day at the office

At my newspaper, we don’t do nearly enough breaking news for the web. There are a million reasons why, but that’s not the point of this post.

I just want to give a little insight as to how quickly things have to go down in my business. And believe me, the story I’m about to tell is nothing compared to many other news operations.

When we do hustle to break news online, it’s a bit stressful but awfully exhilarating.

So, the backstory here is that a prominent nonprofit environmental group, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, filed a federal lawsuit back in 2009 alleging that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed to clean up the bay, and therefore is in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

All of the reporters on the bay beat knew that there were settlement talks, but that’s about it. Nothing was coming out of the case at all for months, until bam! The bay foundation sends out an e-mail on Monday afternoon, saying that they’ll have an announcement of a “significant new development” at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

Now, 10:30 a.m. is too late for the story to make Tuesday evening’s newspaper. (Yes, we are one of the few evening daily newspapers left!) I tried to get the bay foundation to give me the scoop, but I didn’t succeed. They held things tight until 10:30.

So my newspaper made the decision to put up a story online as soon as possible after the 10:30 announcement, which ended up being that a settlement had been reached in the lawsuit.

Here’s how my morning went:

  • 10:15 a.m.: I arrive at press conference. I look over press materials that included the actual information about the settlement.
  • 10:30 a.m.: I “tweeted” that an announcement had been reached as I wait for the press conference to start. I posted a few more tweets before and during the press conference. I’m also taking notes, shooting photos and asking questions during the Q&A portion.
  • 11:38 a.m.: I return to the newsroom and write like a madwoman.
  • 11:55 a.m.: I turn in my story, which was purposefully short but contained all of the key facts.
  • 12:06 p.m.: My editor signs off on the story.
  • 12:09 p.m.: Online staff posts the story and sends out a “breaking news” e-mail alert to registered users of our website.

Of course, I was not able to sit back and kick my feet up at 12:10 p.m.

I still had to process the photos that I shot at the press conference. I also had to do a more thorough rewrite of the story for Wednesday afternoon’s print edition. And I had to do research, phone interviews and an in-person interview for another story I’m working on.

My dear readers who are journalists will instantly recognize this day as a totally normal day. But sometimes I wonder if non-journalists understand how quickly we have to report and write our stories sometimes? Journalism is definitely not for the faint of heart or the lazy!

I linked to the written-in-17-minutes story above, but here it is also:

Bay group, EPA settle cleanup suit

CBF: ‘This agreement is a game-changer’

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer

Published 05/11/10
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency have reached a settlement in an ongoing federal lawsuit over cleaning up the bay.

The agreement puts many of EPA’s promises for improving its efforts into an enforceable legal document, officials said at a news conference this morning.

“This agreement is a game-changer,” said Will Baker, longtime president of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The foundation had sued the EPA in early 2009, alleging the federal government had failed to clean up the bay, therefore violating the federal Clean Water Act.

The case eventually was put on hold so the foundation and the government could engage in settlement talks. The “stay” granted by the judge in the case was due to expire June 30.

EPA officials joined foundation officials in announceing the settlement at the foundation’s bayfront headquarters in Bay Ridge.

EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe said his agency was pleased to have the lawsuit settled in order to move forward on improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

“We do not want to be in conflict over this,” he said.

The settlement requires EPA to:

– Complete its baywide “pollution budget” by the end of this year.

– Make sure states have plans for complying with the pollution budget by late 2011.

– Withhold federal funding or deny permits as a consequence if states don’t comply with the pollution budget.

– Adopt rules governing polluted runoff from stormwater and large animal farms in the next few years.

– Require new pollution sources to be offset by pollution reductions elsewhere.

All of those steps already have been promised by the federal government.

Some of those promises were made in response to an executive order from President Barack Obama that was issued last May, requiring federal agencies to do more for the bay. The agencies’ final responses to the order will be announced in Washington, D.C., tomorrow.

Jon Mueller, the bay foundation attorney who handled the case, said he’ll go back to court to have the settlement enforced if EPA doesn’t hold up its end of the deal.

“This is a legally binding agreement,” Mueller said.

In addition to the bay foundation, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit included the Maryland Watermen’s Association, the Virginia State Waterman’s Association, the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association, former D.C. mayor Anthony A. Williams, former Maryland governor Harry R. Hughes, former Virginia natural resources secretary W. Tayloe Murphy Jr. and former Maryland state senator Bernie Fowler.

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