There's no better intro to a speaking engagement on ways in which the news business is changing than to arrive in a conference room 5 minutes after the SWAT van drives by, sirens wailing.
Members of the Leadership Tri-County class at the local chamber of commerce were anxious for my Thursday morning presentation for one reason: "What's going on in town? Do you know who it is? Do you know what he did?"
"If you follow @MercuryX on Twitter, you would have been seeing updates since 7 a.m. of the police standoff happening in the North End ... if you subscribe to our SMS alerts, you would have gotten a message to your phone.
"If you're a friend or fan on Facebook, you can see our posts and join the conversation of eyewitnesses and others' reaction.
"Check our website and you'll see photos and video, some of it provided from tenants who are being kept by police in their apartments for their safety. And tomorrow morning, you can see it all again in The Mercury."
The unfolding of yesterday's 12-hour drama at Logan Court Apartments in Pottstown provided a real-time example of how our business has changed in a fast-paced two years.
I described to the Leadership class the ways in which we now cover a breaking news event. Not only are we pushing news out in real time on a variety of platforms -- to phones, to laptops, to desktops -- as it happens, but we are also pulling photos, eyewitness accounts, video in from sources on Facebook and Twitter.
The first minutes of the standoff yesterday were relayed to us by a woman on Facebook. Scared, rushed, confused and locked inside her apartment with her 8-year-old son, she reached out to find out what we knew through Facebook. She told us what she had heard from police and her landlady, giving our reporters some information to start our reporting.
As the day wound on, people sent us pictures taken from apartment windows, and our photo chief John Strickler kept us apprised of everything going on at the scene. He was soon joined by police reporter Brandie Kessler. The pair tweeted @mercphotog and @I_M_BrandieK, giving us a live play-by-play account at the same time their followers on Twitter saw it.
Online editor Eileen Faust and then staff writer Frank Otto retweeted, repurposed and rewrote throughout the day.
I described in my 45-minute presentation to the Leadership Class how this changing dynamic is evolving our business and making us more relevant to our community.
I also told them that we still have a devoted print readership in this town -- people who prefer to hold the paper in their hands and absorb the words and images of this saga after the fact. We don't shortchange them. After all, I'm at heart a "newspaperman" and nothing makes me more proud than today's print edition of The Mercury.
Days like yesterday prove the value of the ways in which our business is changing beyond any speech I could have given to the Leadership Class. As I talked, several in the group pulled out their phones and subscribed to our SMS alerts and started following us on Twitter. By the end of my presentation, they were bringing me up to date on what Brandie and John were witnessing across town.
I could say more about the standoff and the outstanding, professional work of Mercury staffers throughout the tense day and evening yesterday, but today's news beckons.
Brandie and John are in Berks County this morning, covering the arrests of two people connected with an early morning murder today in Alsace Township. You can be there too: Follow @MercuryX, PottstownMercury on Facebook, and our website.