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A look at the story behind the New York Times Silicon Prairie story

Over the four years that I’ve written for Silicon Prairie News, I haven’t seen an article on Omaha, Des Moines and Kansas City’s startup scene receive as much buzz and attention as the recent New York Times story, “Tech Start-Ups Find a Home on the Prairie.” Tweet after tweet, Facebook like after Facebook like and email after email, readers shared the story far and wide.

On Nov. 21, the day The Times published the piece online, it made the site’s list of 10 most emailed stories for the day, according to the story’s author, John Eligon. A little more than two weeks after the article was published, it had tallied more than 325 shares on Twitter (a combination of orginal tweets and retweets). On Facebook, it had racked up more than 730 shares, 700 likes and 215 comments. VoterTide, a social media analytics startup based in Omaha, shared these statistics with SPN after I reached out to its co-founder for help with this post.

Ironically, it was an email sent from VoterTide in May that set in motion the events that would eventually put this story on the front page of the New York Times print edition on Thanksgiving day.

“A person from VoterTide … emailed me to tell me about their product and had mentioned in that email about the growing tech startup scene in the plains,” Eligon (left), a seven-year veteran of The Times, said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Based in New York at the time he got the email from VoterTide, Eligon googled “Silicon Prairie” and was led to our website. Interested in what he saw, Eligon got in touch with our co-founder and chief community builder, Jeff Slobotski, who then put him in touch with other people in the Prairie.

In June, Eligon moved to Kansas City to begin a new position as The Times’ Midwest correspondent, a role in which he covers six Midwest states (Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota).

Before election coverage dominated Eligon’s schedule this fall – in his role, he said he covers “any and everything that happens in those (six) states” – he spent about a week talking with various people in the region’s tech community. He also found time to travel to Des Moines to visit Dwolla, a startup featured in the article, and stop in Omaha to have lunch with Slobotski.

Eligon refocused his attention on the story about a week after the election, and he finished it soon after.

“I found it was interesting, and my main goal was to kind of give a sense of what the tech scene here is like,” he said. “It’s just something that a lot of people on the outside don’t really know about, myself included. I mean, I didn’t really know much about it.”

Read Eligon’s story: “Tech Start-Ups Find a Home on the Prairie“.


Credits: Screenshot from nytimes.com. Eligon photo courtesy of Eligon.

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