From texts to a story

Last week, the drama over the same-sex marriage bill in the Maryland House of Delegates developed at a frantic pace.

On Tuesday afternoon — Valentine’s Day — word quickly spread through Annapolis that a pair of committees considering the bill would hold a voting session.

I had been at the State House complex covering another story and headed back to the newsroom to file my story. Just as I was finishing up my story, our State House reporter sent back word that one of Anne Arundel’s Republican delegates was going to be a surprise vote in favor of the same-sex marriage bill.

That may not sound interesting, but in the world of politics, it was.

Supporters of the bill were squeezing every vote they could get, unsure that they could get a 71-vote majority in the 141-member House. Opponents of the bill were trying just as hard to get fence-sitters to commit to casting a “no” vote.

Our State House reporter only had his cell phone with him at the committee hearing — no laptop. He had been texting updates to our editor who handles legislative news.

But in this era of small staffs, our legislative editor also edits one of our smaller newspapers, and that newspaper was on deadline day. He had his hands full.

I volunteered to help, and the editor asked if I could stitch the reporter’s text messages together into a story. He handed his phone over to me. (Ahhh, the evil things I could have done! Just kidding, I like my editor!)

I texted our reporter to let him know that he could send updates directly to my phone. So between the texts on the editor’s phone and my phone, plus culling background information from past stories, I was able to drum up a little story.

We posted it online and it immediately drew attention. We were the first ones to nail down that this Republican was going to vote yes on same-sex marriage.

I knew we had done something good when one of the reporters from The Washington Post linked to the story on Twitter.

Of course, the excitement is fleeting. Within a couple of hours, the original story was replaced with one that lead off with the vote total from the committee. The Republican vote-changer still played a significant role in the story, but as soon as he officially cast his vote, our scoop was gone, turned into knowledge that all the other media had.

But still, it was exciting. And it was fun and a little odd to read quotes that were texted from another reporter to an editor and turn that into a story. Can’t say I’ve done that before.

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