Ryan Green was in his Air Force Academy dorm room in Colorado Springs but he longed to be in Spokane watching Washington's best small-school basketball teams play in the State B tournament.
Greg Sharpes was at work 400 miles away in Longview, WA.
Ed Wagnild took work time off and joined thousands of fans who packed Spokane Arena to watch parts of the four-day tournament, Feb. 27 to March 2.
But all three got to participate in the story because of some unique, interactive coverage by The Spokesman-Review.
It began when Managing Editor Scott Sines devised a newsroom plan requiring the online coverage to supplement, but not supplant, the sports and photo departments' outstanding work, developed over 44 years of tournament coverage.
We set three online goals: To add interactivity, immediacy and experimentation with "rich media."
Online staffers Gina Boysun, Susan Mulvihill, John Webster and Ryan Pitts set up discussion forums, an e-mail news alert service, and a just-for-fun betting pool for fans. Computer programming costs for these new features were partly offset by Pew Center funding.
I monitored the forums and created an interactive blog (short for Web log, an interactive journal). Producing the blog involved some traditional reporting techniques, such as observation and interviews at the arena. But the blog relied heavily on reader contributions. Three days before the tournament started, a newspaper column alerted readers to the blog.
Green, for instance, found it by visiting the Web site after the tournament began. He wrote in to reminisce about the time he and some friends dressed in "vintage polyester warm-ups" and conducted cheers that resembled the slapstick "Saturday Night Live" cheerleader routine of actors Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri.
Sharpes weighed in to complain about the rift between the urban western part of the state and the rural east: "Just because they are farmers on the East Side, they all think they are the reincarnation of Jimmy Chitwood," the farm-boy star player in the movie "Hoosiers."
And Wagnild told about meeting New York Yankees baseball legend Mel Stottlemyre, 38 years after Stottlemyre played in the State B for tiny Mabton High. Playing in the State B "was the biggest thrill of my life. I'll never forget it," Stottlemyre told Wagnild.
"Here was a man who had pitched in a World Series and many All-Star games, won world championships as the pitching coach of the Yankees ... and yet the biggest thrill of his lifetime was playing in the State B," Wagnild marveled.
The conversations with readers, primed by e-mail invitations to "interact with the blogger," started happening days before the games.
"We used the e-mail tool to establish a conversation with people up front, so we had momentum for the blog before the tournament even started," Sines explained. "People loved it. And we had people coming up to us with story ideas at the arena because we were all wearing Spokesman-Review.com T-shirts."
The "best of the blog" was published daily in the paper along with an invitation to view the full version on the Web.
Scores for each game were updated every quarter. Digital photos were downloaded on the spot and posted to the Web site. "It was pretty cool to out-techno the TV folks," staff photographer Chris Anderson said. "I gave Gina a disc and minutes later it was on the Web before the game even hit half-time."
The blog was updated 15 to 20 times a day by wireless transmission from the site.
"Your coverage of the State B has created, at least for me, a brilliant light in the cold wasteland known as Coastal Maine," wrote reader Dave Holte, who found the blog searching for game scores on the paper's Web site. "I find myself checking the Web site about every 10 minutes to see if there are any additions to the blog."
Audio and video clips were also sprinkled throughout the Web coverage. Editor Rebecca Nappi recorded all the school bands and posted their (mostly mangled) tunes on the Web.
Sines posted slide shows of digital still photos with accompanying audio.
In one slide show, for instance, you see the Wilbur-Creston High School cheerleaders in their outlandish hairdos and hear their funny cheers.
Another, "The Art of the German," detailed how to prepare a concession-stand German sausage for consumption.
"We were capable of hearing other people's voices, and it gave our coverage a much richer texture," Sines said.
Not everything worked well. For instance the moving images from the digital video camera didn't transmit smoothly to most home computers.
"We broke ground," Sines said. "Sometimes, though, we hit a sewer line and it stunk."
"I hear all of this talk of convergence between newspaper and TV and the Web," Sines said. "To me, what we did was turn the whole thing around ... We're defining convergence in other ways than what most people are thinking."
To view the State B tournament coverage, go to www.spokesmanreview.com/stateb.
What is a Blog?
Leslie Walker, Internet columnist for The Washington Post, says format distinguishes blogs from personal Web pages: "Blogs contain brief entries arranged chronologically, the most recent at the top of the main page, like a diary in reverse. Most link to material their authors find interesting, adding the blogger's two cents and helping readers find e-nuggets they might otherwise miss."