‘Going viral’ thanks to Chris Nilsen’s record vault

Might have taken me almost two years, but I finally took this newspaper viral. And on a national level, too.

Many of you have probably seen the video of Park Hill senior Chris Nilsen setting an all-time national pole vault record last week. If not, you might have noticed the large picture on our front page. Or the expansive coverage in this week’s sports section.

This was a pretty big deal.

I’m proud to say that your favorite weekly newspaper based in Platte City helped spread this story to a national level. Yes, I plan to take some credit here.

You see, we at The Citizen have covered Chris Nilsen since before Chris Nilsen was Chris Nilsen. I don’t think any other media outlet knows the details of his amazing story quite like we do.
Nilsen started as a sophomore with a fairly mundane personal best of 12 feet, 3 inches in the pole vault, but last year, he set the school record and then set about systematically upping that mark on a weekly basis. 

Then Nilsen went big and vaulted 17-0 in the Class 5 Missouri State Track and Field Championships, shattering a long-held meet record. The number kept going up this year to 18-0 (just the ninth high school athlete in U.S. history to go that high) and then 18-4 3/4 over the weekend in the Class 5 Sectional 4 meet.

That’s literally never been done before. At least not by a high school athlete. Nilsen is now less than inches away from posting a height that would qualify him for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Impressive stuff.

Knowing the back story, I positioned myself near the pole vault pit for the record attempts on Saturday. I also enlisted the help of former Citizen reporter Bryce Mereness to record video while I took pictures.

After the successful try, I put all my energy into being first — first with video, first with photos, first with a full story. This paid off when Bryce’s video took off on Facebook.

As of Tuesday morning, Nilsen’s vault on our page had been viewed more than 400,000 times with help from more than 4,000 shares. Pretty humbling to think our little old paper could make a splash that big.

And to clarify, ‘going viral’ consists of taking your content and having it reach a large audience that extends beyond the normal range of your immediate following on social media. In this case, we even received some comments in French that took some jabs at Nilsen.

Going viral can be weird.

I’m proud to have our name associated with the content. CBS Sports/MaxPreps, Fox Sports, Track and Field News magazine are among the outlets who have requested usage of our footage or images. ESPN never responded, but it’s their loss.

This achievement obviously struck a chord with the general population, not just track and field fans, and the resonance shows in the spread of the imagery.

This also shows that hard work and familiarity with your subjects can pay off. We aren’t a big media entity, but we still do good work.

I’m very proud of that, and I won’t be embarrassed to revel a little bit in this exposure.

We weren’t alone. Observers posted their own photos from the scene. Fellow competitors requested selfies with Nilsen to commemorate that they were there the day this record fell.
You can’t really plan on going viral. You just have to be ready to capture the moment and recognize big events.

This might not ever happen again for us here at The Citizen. Or maybe Nilsen has one more record vault left for his career this week at state.

We will be there and be ready again, but we will have plenty of company. The world knows about Chris Nilsen now, and that’s pretty cool.

Really glad to have our part in recognizing what is truly a memorable feat.

Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at editor@plattecountycitizen.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.