Creative Use of Technology and New Media: Virginia Tech - Silver Award

2008 Circle of Excellence Awards Program
Category 12. Creative Use of Technology and New Media
Virginia Tech
April 16 Tragedy Multimedia


Paul Lancaster Lancaster
Broadcast Media Coordinator
University Relations
201 Media Bldg. 0133
Blacksburg, VA 24061
(540) 231-6997


Mike Dame Director of Web Communications
Randall Stith Video Tribute Producer
Bruce Harper Senior Web Administrator
Kim Haines Web Producer
Paul Lancaster Podcast Producer
Gabrielle Minnich Podcast Producer
Elaine Oliver Web Designer

Virginia Tech: April 16 Tragedy



After a day like no other, Virginia Tech needed a way to communicate like no other with the millions of people who joined the Virginia Tech community to mourn the victims of April 16, 2007.

Planning, Goals and Mission

With literally hundreds of media outlets and close to 1,000 reporters descending upon the campus, University Relations sought a way to deliver the unfiltered and unedited comments of university, law enforcement, and state leaders trying to offer facts, thoughts, and prayers in response to the murders of 32 students and faculty. The university's mission includes the discovery and dissemination of knowledge, and this creative use of technology and new media allowed us to achieve this. Planning for an event of this magnitude came in the form of an existing crisis communications plan which gave us a structure from which to build our response.


One of our objectives in developing web content related to April 16 was to think multimedia and think "Web 2.0." We strove to create ways for people to connect with the university and participate in our grieving.

Our home page linked to:

  • Photo galleries grouped by subject
  • Podcasts from myriad events and press conferences
  • Live video streaming of Convocation
  • A live webcam at the Candlelight Vigil on April 17
  • A condolences/ prayers website that we created on the fly, and which attracted 35,000 messages in 72 hours

Creativity, content, usability

How to accomplish this? It was quickly decided the university should post as much information as it possibly could on its web site, to achieve the objective of allowing viewers and listeners a chance to judge the information for themselves, without editing or commentary from the media. As the university had been turning to new media to reach out to new audiences, podcasts, video streaming, photo galleries, a condolence website, and live webcams were natural paths for communicating the university's message. Using these technologies was made more relevant by the speed in which we posted new material. Podcasts of the press conferences were posted within hours of the events; the convocation was streamed live the day following the shootings; Tributes and comments were added as they became available.


Our audience was the world. And our goal was to reach out to them through any and every means possible. Use of new media allowed us to reach these audiences, and to offer unfiltered information to them.


Because of the immediacy of the situation, we relied on existing physical and human resources. Additional in-house servers helped carry the load of 'hits' to the university's web pages, but no additional people or financial respources were used.

Evaluation and results

Through the end of 2007, Virginia Tech's "We Remember" web pages received more than 3.5 million 'hits'. Because of the nature of the crisis, we were unable to capture numbers for the multimedia website specifically, but an indicator of the number of hits may be that the Drillfield webcam overlooking the memorial received more than 300,000 hits. Additionally, the condolence section( ) allowed more than 35,000 individuals, families, and institutions to share their thoughts and prayers with the university. And more than 300 universities also had the opportunity to share their thoughts on our higher education support webpage ( )