On July 7, The Dallas Morning News covered a downtown rally planned as a response to the fatal shootings of African-American men in Minnesota and Louisiana. The event played out peacefully for nearly two hours. But before the night was through, five police officers would die and nine others, along with two civilians, would lie wounded. It would be the deadliest single day for law enforcement officers in this country since Sept. 11, 2001.
Our reporters and photographers covering the protest ducked from gunshots and took cover among the terrorized protesters. Within minutes, dozens more on our staff responded with speed and precision. Over the next 24 hours, we provided continuous coverage of the most traumatic news event in our city since the Kennedy assassination.
We faced numerous challenges in telling this story. As staff raced downtown, they found most of the city, including the immediate area around The Morning News, sealed off by police. The attack took place just a few blocks from the newsroom. The News opened its lobby and parking lot to provide refuge for people fleeing the chaos.
Reader interest was so high that two hours after the shooting, traffic to dallasnews.com overwhelmed the server, and The News decided to reroute visitors to a redesigned “beta” version of the site that was being prepared for a public launch. Until then, the beta site had not been tested with a major breaking news story.
The night began with two reporters and three photographers staffing the rally. By 8 a.m. July 8, the main article had been updated more than 100 times with contributions from 36 staff writers, including several interns. We’ve included the version that was posted just within the first 24 hours after the shooting. Three more photographers joined the fray and continuously uploaded still images and videos and posted to social media.
The News continued its coverage with dozens of articles, including the local and state response, a prayer service, a memorial to the slain officers outside Dallas police headquarters and an interview with the man wrongly named by police as a person of interest. From the first notice sent about the rally just before 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next day, the News sent 119 tweets, posted four Facebook Live videos and sent 11 push notifications to readers.
The shootings occurred fewer than five months after we completed a top-to-bottom reorganization of our newsroom. About 130 people — nearly half the staff — were in new roles. It was the first major test for our newly digital newsroom.