BREAKING THE ICE

By: Ken Liebeskind

Seattle P-I Team Reports From Antarctica

It’s not every newspaper reporter and photographer who cover a story in Antarctica, but that’s just what Judd Slivka and Meryl Schenker are doing. The reporter/photographer team from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is on a ship that has reached Antarctica on an icebreaking mission. They are providing words and pictures for P-I coverage that is appearing in print and online.

Coverage started Dec. 13, three days after Slivka and Schenker left Seattle and flew to Tasmania to meet the ship that left Seattle in mid-October. The pair boarded the U.S. Coast Guard’s Polar Star, a 399-foot ship that is the world’s most powerful non-nuclear icebreaker. It was en route to clear ice to create shipping channels into McMurdo Sound, the primary U.S. station in Antarctica.

The idea for the coverage was Slivka’s, a general-assignment reporter who has been at the P-I for only nine months, according to David McCumber, the senior editor overseeing the project.

‘When he first mentioned it, I was thinking, ‘How can I let him know we can’t do it without destroying his enterprise?” McCumber said. ‘But the more we thought about it, the more enthusiastic we became about getting it done.’

The enthusiasm stems from the fact that the mission is really a local story, since the 138-member crew is from Seattle, where the ship was built and is home ported. Seattle is the home base for all icebreakers, an industry and lifestyle the P-I seldom covers. ‘We’re connecting with readers we might not normally serve,’ McCumber said.

But it’s not just a local story, since most of it takes place in Antarctica. ‘It’s a very modern story that shows how local news is also global,’ McCumber said.

Coverage has included mostly front-page stories that consist of Slivka’s reporting and journal entries with Schenker’s photos, taken with a digital camera that enables her to transmit them via e-mail.

‘It’s had a Page One presence most days, but there have been days where it’s been bumped off by news events. Then we’ll have a front-page box and tag line,’ McCumber said.

Meanwhile, visitors to the P-I’s Web site are getting expanded coverage. A huge headline on the home page, ‘To the End of the Earth,’ directs viewers to inside pages with Slivka’s daily updates, Schenker’s photos, and an interactive guide to the Polar Star with details on the ship.

The ability to tell the story on the Web ‘sold the newsroom on it,’ said Lee Rosen, manager of new media. ‘It means we can do it in real time. They send in reports that go up immediately. Plus we can get more on the Web site. In the paper, space is at a premium, but there’s plenty of room online.’

‘Some stories can benefit from being told two different ways,’ McCumber said. ‘In the newspaper, we run two or three photos with a limited news hole. If readers want more information, they can go to the Web. There’s been amazing response from readers who are very enthusiastic.’

The mission has been the high point of the young journalists’ careers. ‘The highlight has been seeing things I’ve never seen before in a setting like this,’ Slivka said. ‘The highlight has been setting foot on the continent of Antarctica,’ Schenker said.

The pair will report from Antarctica until Jan. 8. Then they will take a supply plane to New Zealand before returning to Seattle.


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(c) Copyright 1999, Editor & Publisher

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