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Watching A Story Explode

A tongue-in-cheek cartoon was an example of the online response to Disney's trademark applications. Image courtesy of Lalo Alcaraz/
A tongue-in-cheek cartoon was an example of the online response to Disney's trademark applications. Image courtesy of Lalo Alcaraz/

It used to be, when you're working a major news story, events dictate coverage.

A bombing occurs. People are hurt, hospitals are activated. There's a widespread investigation and, eventually, the suspects are apprehended.


A wildfire spreads, homes burn, firefighters fight, the fire is contained.

A scandal is uncovered, an investigation ensues, Congress holds hearings, someone loses their job.

You get my drift.

But these days a story can take on a life of its own that has nothing to do with events. It is a fascinating process to observe and is almost a parallel journalistic universe to the one that is following actual news events.

That happened in our Fronteras Desk newsroom this week. An obscure little story was spotted on an industry blog. The blog reported that Disney Enterprises, Inc. had filed a trademark application for the phrase "Dia De Los Muertos."


We thought, "Interesting story, let's do a spot for radio on that, and, as we're reporting the radio spot, we'll post a little story on our website."

And so our Social Media Editor John Rosman did a little reporting, found the trademark application and posted a story with a great picture on our website around 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

And then we watched the story take on a life of its own. Within minutes it was being tweeted and retweeted around the twittersphere. Facebook "likes" expanded like a mushroom cloud. Page views grew and grew and grew. By midday we were looking at thousands of Facebook likes and hundreds of comments on our website. And it just continued to surge and swell. Nothing was actually happening, but the story was ALIVE, expanding in front of our eyes.

At the end of the news cycle, the Disney story on the Fronteras Desk website garnered more 71,000 visits, with 96 percent of those were from unique, first time visitors. Facebook likes on the story topped 32,000.

Oh, and by the end of the day, Disney announced to Fronteras Desk that it was withdrawing the trademark application.

Now, those numbers probably are not much when compared to what a major news operation may get in any given day, but they were astounding for this little newsroom and even more astounding to watch as it happened.

It was not a big story; just a news blip. But it was a fascinating exercise in viral journalism. Instead of running around trying to find interviews, track down sources, collect sound and copy for a story, we're sitting in our newsroom watching the numbers spiral into the tens of thousands and ultimately impact the news itself.

For an old-school journalist like myself, it was nearly as exciting as an event-based news story. It was a different beast though, and — like so many have commented in the past — a brave new world where the story becomes the story.