May 4, 2005

How Cornell got the message out about the ivory-billed woodpecker

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Although the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's search for the ivory-billed woodpecker began in February 2004, an announcement wasn't planned until May 18, 2005. The long lead time was crucial to permit the lab's partner, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), time to protect the Arkansas discovery area through land acquisitions and to allow the search team to gather convincing evidence of the bird's existence.

But on April 26 the news began leaking on the Internet.

Lab director John Fitzpatrick worked with the journal Science to revise the research paper on the sightings so it could be accepted and published by Thursday, April 28, on the Science Express Web site, to coincide with a press conference in Washington, D.C.

By prior agreement, the first word of the discovery came that morning on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," which had been following the story for a year.

As the press conference opened at 11:30 that morning at the U.S. Department of the Interior, the communications teams at Cornell and TNC launched a joint Web site, http://www.ivorybill.org, as well as a limited-access Web site for media with video footage and downloadable high-resolution images. In addition, details of the discovery were released on Web sites at the Lab of Ornithology and TNC. The Cornell News Service Web site also featured the discovery, receiving 3,402 hits between April 29 and May 2.

The Lab of Ornithology's communications and marketing department sent an electronic press release via e-mail to more than 1,000 newspapers, magazines, radio stations and television stations, as well as to birding list serves around the country, and a separate press conference was held at the Lab of Ornithology for local reporters.

Simeon Moss, director of the Cornell Press Relations Office -- which sent its own staffer and a photographer to Washington -- said his staff responded to more than 60 phone calls from media outlets around the world on the day of the announcement, alone, and took many more calls from ecstatic birders. He also received more than 150 e-mail messages from the media and others.

Between April 28 and May 2, the story had been covered in 459 newspapers across the country, had been featured on 174 television news programs, including on the "CBS Evening News," CNN and BBC, and had appeared on 45 Web sites. In addition, five wire-service agencies and 43 radio news programs covered the story.