Of all the strange and excessive news coverage of the Denver Broncos, my own favorite article appeared in The Denver Post about three weeks ago, revealing that near halftime during Bronco games, so many fans take potty breaks that it appears to those who monitor Denver’s water as if a water main has busted.
Normally, in response to such extreme drops in water pressure, officials might dispatch emergency repair crews. But they’re used to it.
“You can’t react to them, because it’s going to be back in five minutes,” Denver Water’s Dario Diaz told The Post’s Kevin Simpson of the pressure drops. “The Red Screen of Death, that’s what we call it. If you see that any other day than a Broncos Sunday, you better get somebody on the phone.
“On Broncos Sunday, you chalk it up to the game.”
To me the anecdote, along with the beautiful Post headline for the story, “Orange Flush: How life in Denver–from traffic to toilets–revolves around the Broncos,” perfectly encapsulates the absurdity, humanity, banality, and all-encompassing nature of the Bronco spectacle.
How did Simpson get this story, and who came up with “Orange Flush?”
“The backstory is fairly straightforward,” Simpson told me via email. “We wanted to do a piece on how Broncos game days are different, how they change the usual dynamics of our (mostly) Sundays. My editor and I informally brainstormed some areas that might be affected. We all knew about the grocery store rush but we also started thinking about things like infrastructure. I started making calls. Some came up empty (no big change on the energy grid), others produced some semi-interesting tidbits (CDOT recalibrating lane closures). But we got really lucky with Denver Water. Turned out they track usage in real time. And they had noticed the surges in use at various points in Broncos games, particularly the halftime bathroom break.
I asked them to pull some of the data and they came through big-time. They also put me in touch with Dario Diaz, who was able to explain the whole halftime flushing phenomenon but also pinned usage to individual events — like the Seattle kickoff return for a touchdown at the start of the second half of SB48 that pretty much doomed the Broncos.
Denver Water also provided data for a non-Broncos Sunday that we could use as a baseline for a chart put together by our graphic artist Michelle Doe, who enabled our readers to visualize what Diaz was talking about. Credit for the “Orange Flush” hammer hed goes to Linda Shapley, our director of newsroom operations who has a long and illustrious history in page makeup and has always had a singular talent for these things. She heard about the story and almost instantly came up with the perfect option.
In the end, the process of poking around and asking questions revealed something really off-beat on which to build the story. I got the impression that Denver Water was getting as much of a kick out of this as we did. And our readers seemed to enjoy it. People were retweeting the link to the story a week after it originally appeared.
Not exactly big-J Journalism, but it was kind of fun.
True, not big-J Journalism, but pretty impressive and great nonetheless–and it makes you appreciate what reporters and editors do, even to give us the small stuff that makes life more interesting.