08_The Repository__A__1 againThe city of Canton, Ohio, has forged an identity through the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the one pre-season game the city gets each year to kick off the National Football League campaign.

The Hall of Fame Village is currently in the midst of a $500 million renovation and expansion, one that’s taken the former Fawcett Stadium and transformed it into Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. The final phase of the stadium’s construction has been held off until after Sunday’s season-opening exhibition between the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts.

As you might expect, the Canton Repository offers up a heavy dose of Hall of Fame coverage, leading up to and including the induction ceremonies and the pre-season tilt.

So, when Sunday’s game was canceled after what the Rep reported as “congealed paint at the midfield logo and in the end zones created an uneven and tar-like playing surface,” the paper’s staff had to shift coverage on the fly. The entire package can be found at this link, including a number of columns and updates.

Scott Brown is the managing editor of the Repository, and he gave us this post-game analysis, detailing how the paper pulled off some magnificent coverage, all the way through an impromptu editorial board meeting that resulted in a 1A opinion piece.

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Scott Brown of the Canton Repository explains how the paper shifted gears after Sunday's Hall of Fame Game was canceled. (Photo via LinkedIn)
Scott Brown of the Canton Repository explains how the paper shifted gears after Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game was canceled. (Photo via LinkedIn)

STAFFING: This is one of our biggest events every year, so we already were staffed well with three sports writers (Mike Popovich, Joe Scalzo, Josh Weir) in the press box, a news writer on the grounds (Shane Hoover), our sports editor (Chris Beaven) on site to coordinate and three photographers — Scott Heckel and Bob Rossiter to shoot the game, and Michael Balash to edit photos, file to Newscycle and build a gallery. Our plans were pretty standard going in — game story, column, sidebar, notebook, fan stories — but pivoted quickly once word started to leak that the game was in jeopardy.

DROP EVERYTHING: We made this an “all hands on deck” situation quickly.
— I was at a cookout with my family, but after getting a text from Heckel on the field about rumblings of poor field conditions, I looked at Twitter and ESPN was saying game was in question. I muttered something my children probably shouldn’t have heard, made a beeline to my laptop, and then was in the office within 15 minutes.
— Our Executive Editor, Rich Desrosiers, was attending the game as a spectator but quickly pivoted to an editorial (see below).
— Our multimedia editor, Ben Duer, was off but we called on him to run some Storify and push some social media from home. We were active on Facebook and Twitter all night, sharing story links and retweeting what our writers on scene were seeing.
— Cyndi Phillips, who dummies our ads daily, also came in and she and I coordinated with our press room and production crew to remake the paper. Game coverage had been planned for our sports section, but we moved those pages from our sports section into our main news section.
— Several other editors, including Todd Porter, Laura Kessel and Dwight Kier, contributed bits from home on various things, like doing app pushes. Porter also was occupied putting together a breaking news obit on a man who we had written about extensively the previous couple years after his wife was nearly killed. You have to read this link to believe that heart-wrenching story.

CHANGING THE PLAN: When we first realized the field would be a story (before we heard serious talk of canceling the game), we figured that would be the sidebar for the night. Scalzo hit the field to find out more and tweet what he could find. We kept hearing more dire reporters from people milling around the field. Then ESPN broke with news of the cancellation on air, and within a couple minutes we were on the website and on Twitter ourselves. Weir did a quick update, then joined Scalzo on the field to gather news. Popovich stayed in the press box to update the web story off the Hall president going on ESPN, then headed down in the time to grab Brett Favre for a sidebar. Our photographers were all over it from the start since they already were on the field and captured some compelling images. Hoover, had the unenviable task of alerting some fans he approached to the situation, since ESPN announced the game was off more than an hour before it was officially announced to the crowd in the stadium. As you can imagine, the fans weren’t happy.

FOR A1: We don’t do single-subject fronts often, but this was a no-brainer even though we had strong news with the obit and Donald Trump headed to Canton for a fundraiser on Monday. For headlines on big events, we often have tried to use the voice of people involved. Those can be powerful. As soon as David Baker, the Hall president, said “embarrassing,” we had it. The headline was mine, but BJ Lisko designed the rest of the page with some suggestions from me. We built around the editorial first (see below), because we thought it important not to jump it. Lisko also designed two open inside pages.

EDITORIAL: The decision to write an editorial was made collaboratively by Desrosiers (who ultimately wrote it) and Publisher Jim Porter, who advocated for Page 1 placement. The other three members of the editorial board were able to review the piece, so our normal process was unchanged. Desrosiers was at the game, so he was able to witness first-hand some of the events as they unfolded, including the NFL players’ positive reaction to Hall President David Baker’s announcement that became a central point of the editorial. Because one goal was to hold the editorial to the front page, two versions were written of varying lengths. The editorial board preferred the longer version, but filed a shorter version in case the designer would have trouble making the page work. It worked out well with the longer version.

ON SCENE: The only real information available to the writers at the stadium were tweets that a few national folks like ESPN’s Adam Schefter were getting from their NFL sources on the field. Folks in the press box knew nothing, even the PR folks from the league and/or the Hall, so that was a challenge for our writers. So our guys tried to get on the field, but initially were not allowed access. Chaotic would be one word to describe it all, but eventually we were there along with other writers and the TV folks. Scalzo had the great idea to do the Q&A with Baker. Beaven and the writers on scene worked out specific angles as things played out. The original online story soon morphed into a landing page to link to Scalzo’s column, Weir’s lead, Popovich’s sidebar and others coverage.

FOLLOWS: Scalzo is hitting it hard again today. We already posted a short that the Hall is working on a refund policy and doing an “investigation” into what happened with the paint. Stay tuned!

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