You Want Fries With That Viral Story?

It was Saturday morning, and I’d gotten about 2 hours of sleep. We had storms sweep through our market overnight, and while there were no tornadoes, the pictures made you think “That HAD to be a tornado”.

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Trees were snapped, animals knocked from nests, decks now married to the tree that fell on them, crops flattened from their standing glory, road closed, even a stoplight blown 90 degrees the wrong direction.

PHOTO COURTESY: Bellevue Police

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From central Nebraska to Omaha, it was a trail of destruction that happened while most people slept (or tried to sleep). A 96-mile-per-hour gust turned out to be verified.


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I was in “the zone”. Getting video and pictures from everywhere, even recruited a great Twitter follower to get us some video and pictures from an area too far away to travel to at that moment. I jokingly told him he was hired.

In the middle of my searches, I kept seeing a Burger King sign with a message of “We All Quit” on the marquee. The posts said “this is in Lincoln”, but being a cynical journalist I didn’t believe it. Mental note – check on that story. I had work to do for the storms and the cleanup.

PHOTO COURTESY: Rachael Flores

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Our Events Center was littered with damage and they needed community help. People needed to know where to take tree debris. I-80 was closed down and then slowed to a halt after re-opening from downed power lines. Tens of thousands of people across the state were without power. The Burger King had to wait in my own personal drive-thru lane of importance.

As Saturday morning turned into afternoon, more storms were on the way. I wondered if I had time to drive to the Burger King and see for myself. I didn’t. It wasn’t worth missing the insult to injury of weather that could be in store.

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We’ll get Burger King tomorrow – just needed to vet it out a bit. If it’s true, my gut said it would be a great story. I just couldn’t abandon breaking news to look into it and every person who was available was chasing weather damage.

Sunday comes and the weekend staff had a reporter working on the story. She was talking to some workers who were involved in the Burger King Quitting Debacle.

As the staff is well-trained to do, they aired the story and posted it online. Good headline, good content. Just needed video.

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As I woke up Monday, I saw the metrics from the night before on the website. The Burger King story was in the top 10.

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I thought to myself, in the haze of a Monday morning of a sleepless weekend “But that story wasn’t posted until after 10:30 pm, how did it already have 2600 views?” I knew the report we get comes out in 24-hour increments, meaning the cut-off was midnight. In 90 minutes, the story made it to the top 10 of an entire day filled with incredible storm damage video?

So, I sprung into action at 5:30 am. Texted the digital producer to add video to the story (Hey, I like video clicks). I messaged ABC on Slack to tell them about the story.

As I looked to Google Analytics (yes, I have it up at home – don’t judge me for being competitive), I saw the story was “popping”. So, I jumped in the CMS script and added a call to download the app “If you want more stories like this”, again, competitive and want to get more people to see the content we work so hard on every day.

Then I looked at GA again and saw Fark was referring it. I love Fark, and if you don’t you should. It’s a website of wild, weird, talk-about stories that have for years been a “go-to” of ideas. For more than a decade I’ve submitted stories to Fark, always feeling like a bad version of myself when they don’t get picked up.

Then ABC started asking a lot of questions about it. The numbers on GA started growing and growing. Then we saw FOX News had it. CNN called about it. It was trending on the WSB website – in Atlanta.

Then I quickly grabbed the raw video of the interview, put it into Adobe Rush, and started editing it in its entirety with some graphics. I didn’t make it pretty, but I got it done. If that many people cared about this story they should see the full interview. “Bounce Rate battle about to commence,” I said to myself as I uploaded the video to the website.

We sent a reporter Monday to cover the story, try to get comments and feedback from the location and the corporate offices of Burger King. We were shut down at every turn but still managed to turn a damn fine story.

Even as I write this article the morning after, our GA still shows 10 times the traffic we normally get. So, I updated the story a bit and re-targeted it, and re-shared it on social media with some new information. I bumped Burger King to comment again.

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Next Step? Put it on the station’s YouTube channel. Let’s get those hits too.

You have to seize the moment when you have good, local content.

Someone said to me in the course of the day yesterday “I’ve seen this done before.” It’s a good thing that message was text because my face would have laid them out flatter than a Whopper burger.

Yes. It has been done before. BUT – never at the end of a pandemic when there’s a worker shortage and poor pay and questionable working conditions with a generation of people who have found the words to say “We are not going to take it anymore.” Whether you work in restaurants or eat at them, you’ve seen firsthand the closings from staff shortages, the wait times when there aren’t enough people, the exhaustion in the face of a waitress who’s been on her feet for 10 hours getting thankless comments of “wait times”.

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This story struck a chord like no other. Yes, the song has been sung before, but this was Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem chord.

We spend so much time in our digital worlds focused on stories from the AP, big national stuff, and the like. Those stories rarely “blow up” for us. It’s the Josh Fight’s, the Burger King “We All Quit” and the like that happen in our unique local communities and we grab them and show them to our community and the world.

No other outlet can cover our communities as we can. They don’t know the people we know or have the local knowledge to do it justice. We have to put our community first and forecast and then magnify that great story to the world.

The next time you think “Ugh, I gotta write my web story”, remember, you could be the next Burger King story. You could be the next viral sensation for your market. You could have a story that changes lives, sparks discussions, and effects change.

This wasn’t even a story that was pitched to us. This was a story we saw first on a local Reddit (well, that’s where I first saw it) and other social media with local connections. But we saw it, dug in, seized it, and ran with it.

We’re still running with it on Tuesday. There’s still interest. There’s still a world of fast-food workers making your morning coffee fantasizing about doing the “We All Quit” moment as they smile and tell you to have a nice day.

Local news is where it’s at, in my opinion. Just use your gut, your digging skills, your creativity, and your knowledge of how to beef up a story to make it happen. Don’t just sit in wonder at it – get into it and make it better.

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One Comment

  1. Msfab

    That sign reminded me of the many stories of journalist and radio personalities unceremoniously quitting live on the air.

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