We live blogged a cat stuck on a bridge and everyone lapped it up!
Hatty the cat became an instant star when Plymouth Live started documenting her six-day bridge sit. Editor Edd Moore shares why what could have been dismissed as a boring ‘stuck cat’ story ended up gripping audiences for days
“Any cats stuck up trees lately?”
It’s a question every local journalist has probably been jokingly asked.
And of course we all reply that we don’t report on boring things like stuck cats because there are people being murdered and politicians to hold to account.
Because, last week, it came to pass: the biggest story in Plymouth was a stuck cat.
In fact, Hatty the Cat’s six-day spell stuck up a railway bridge ended up making national headlines — and almost brought mainline trains to a halt.
Interest in the story went from a “meh” from the editor (that’s me, still eating humble pie) to nearly 60,000 people being gripped to our Facebook Live coverage in a space of a few hours.
When reporter Katie Timms first caught wind of the story, late on a Tuesday night, the newsdesk was overwhelmingly underwhelmed.
But our audience surprised us, as they so often do. Despite the fact it was gone midnight most people should’ve been asleep, thousands stayed up to follow our live blog into the early hours.
Chartbeat was still ablaze in the morning and comments on our Facebook page confirmed there was a hunger for more news of this poor stricken cat named Hatty.
Video journalist Erin Black was grudgingly deployed to the scene muttering something about “not being a cat person”.
Her subsequent Facebook Live coverage of the attempted rescue operation was a thing of beauty.
Ably assisted by picture editor Penny Cross, Erin spent three and a half hours in the rain live streaming what was effectively firefighters climbing ladders and trying to coax the cat out with Dreamies. Her commentary meandered from cat facts to the history of the Royal Albert Bridge and back again — without ever getting boring.
The reaction was almost entirely positive; those following it were part of the drama (if you can call it that) and part of the conversation.
People were taking their phones to the toilet with them. They were watching from Australia, unable to tear themselves away.
Some suggested getting t-shirts printed in tribute to our intrepid ‘camera lady’. Others declared their undying love for her.
“Noooo, please don’t stop” came the reply when it became clear the rescue operation was to be fruitless and Erin, having survived on nothing but a peach all day, was finally forced to end the coverage. It’s now reached almost 85,000 people.
It was one of the most engaging Facebook Lives we have ever produced and, accompanied by an equally-entertaining live blog manned from the office, drove tens of thousands of readers to Plymouth Live.
The cat rescue became one of our biggest stories of the week — and our coverage ended up on the BBC and ITV news.
Yet not so long ago we might have ignored this seemingly mundane story.
So powerful are our analytics tools that we can of course now judge interest in a story in an instant.
Chartbeat told us hundreds of people were staying up late to follow the story, Crowdtangle told us they were engaging with it and the tone of comments on Facebook told us to throw the kitchen sink at it.
All of this allows us to serve our audience in a better way than ever before — giving our readers what they are demanding in real-time.
Oh, and what happened to Hatty?
She wandered home of her own accord overnight, because that’s just how cats roll.