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Ohio town, reeling from rape case, sets up website. Can it influence coverage? (+video)

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Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi said he first became aware of the power of providing real time data online after the first press conference after the shooting, when the police chief announced that the names of the victims would be uploaded to the website that morning. Minutes later, the website received 10 million hits, forcing the server to shut down for 20 minutes.

Months later, the website continues to provide information related to the incident, such as grief counseling session times and notice of a town hall meeting discussing violence scheduled to take place this Saturday.

“Local municipalities are often slow to communication, mainly what they do is provide agendas for meetings and phone directories. But with the public now familiar with social media, they want the information right away,” Mayor Scaffidi says. “We essentially provided raw data, and whatever was released publicly,  we released it on the site. That was the real difference: the immediacy.”

However, in instances where police misconduct is suspected, some local officials are pushing this strategy a step further and creating dedicated sites that attempt to head off criticism by showing they have a firm grasp on the developing situation.

By branding a website that is specific to the event, the town positions itself as an in-house media outlet, ready to provide updates and perspectives on the event directly to readers, rather than serving as a third-party source.

“From a purely technical standpoint, having a site out there to show your side of the story helps organize search results. If I have optimized my website enough, I can counter all the negative press that’s out there,” says Vicky Vadlamani, director of digital strategy at Levick, a strategic communications firm in Washington.

The new Steubenville site, titled “Steubenville Facts,” was created on a free platform with key words such as “facts,” “resources” and “tips” peppered into the text in an obvious effort to push the site to the front of the line for web search results related to the crime.

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