Just count the ways in which you could not imagine this story taking up high-profile space on the front page of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, or in earlier eras of the Los Angeles Times. Jimmy Orr, the LAT's managing editor for digital, writes a 1,500-word first-person story talking about an episode from his previous life as a press spokesman for the George W. Bush White House — when he came up with the idea to attract web eyeballs with a webcam presence for the Bush dog Barney. Orr's story runs as today's Column One story, the label once reserved for the kinds of deep, writerly reporting the paper built its reputation on before the Sam Zell era. From Orr's piece:
After Barney died Friday at age 12, I found myself thinking about how he became an Internet sensation.
In 2002, the White House was still closed to the public after the attacks of Sept. 11. I ran the White House website, and we wanted to use the Internet to better connect with citizens.
Our first attempt to bring people in to the White House — virtually — was a big hit. Millions of viewers went to our site to see President Bush give a personal video tour of the Oval Office.
During a brainstorming session, my deputy, Jane Cook, mentioned that the theme for the White House Christmas was "All Creatures Great and Small" — a tribute to presidential pets.
People liked our videos. People loved Barney. Why not strap a video camera to the first dog's head, chase him through the White House so viewers can see the Christmas decorations from his vantage point, and stream it over the Internet?
I decided to pitch the idea at the morning communications meeting in the West Wing, where a couple of dozen communication staffers gather to plan the day.
Orr, who later helped guide the web presence for Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Christian Science Monitor, began at the Times writing anti-Obama blog posts as weekend relief for the paper's official Republican Party blogger at the time, Andrew Malcolm. In 2010 Orr was hired as deputy online editor. He was promoted to managing editor in 2011, and has overseen major increases in web traffic to LATimes.com.
White House photo of Barney, President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005