By: Joe Strupp
When Monday’s tragic high school shooting in Red Lake, Minn., began, not every call from the school was to the police. At least one person phoned the Bemidji Pioneer, a nearby daily.
“Our receptionist got a call from a kid at the high school on a cell phone,” recalls Editor Molly Miron, who has been at the 9,886-circulation paper for five years. “It was a panic call a few minutes after 3 p.m., so [the shooting] was still going on. He just said there was a shooting and hung up.”
Miron, who has served as editor for a year and has a staff of four news reporters, said she quickly called police, got a busy signal, then called the high school, where no one answered after seven rings.
“Just then, the [police] scanner broke through, and they were asking for a lot of ambulances and back-up,” she told E&P. “That’s when I grabbed my camera and headed up there. I passed a few ambulances on the way screaming by me.”
Technically a sovereign nation, the Red Lake reservation is not considered part of Minnesota, Miron said, and has the power to close off access. Reaching the crime scene by about 4 p.m., after a 35-mile drive from the paper, she was one of the few journalists allowed into the reservation before it closed its borders at 5 p.m.
Reservation leaders have since restricted access for journalists who were let in once the borders reopened Tuesday morning, threatening to arrest any outside journalist who veers from specific areas. That has sparked protests from a number of outside reporters and editors.
For the Pioneer, however, Miron’s quick entry and local ties helped the paper get first-day stories and photos others could not obtain. Pioneer photographer Monte Draper also got in. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.
Even most early television coverage lacked any views of the reservation because borders were closed.
“I cover that community, so people know me up there,” Miron said. “People have been calling us and e-mailing us to let us know what is going on.” The paper also has been seen as a source of news for other news outlets, ranging from the BBC to Australian television, Miron said. “I’ve been on a lot of interviews,” she noted. “They keep calling; they’ve been very aggressive.”
But even though the paper was getting good exclusive copy and art, it still faced hurdles. For one, press renovations had knocked out nearly half of its press-run capability, shrinking Tuesday’s paper from its usual 16-page sections to 12-pages. They were also limited to color only on four pages of each section.
“We could not expand the paper because of the press limitations,” Miron noted. “We had to drop the routine news, such as a city council meeting, and go with this. We did not need to run an extra section.”
Tuesday’s 12-page main section had four inside pages of coverage, in addition to the entire front page. Wednesday’s paper, which was larger, also had nothing but shooting coverage on Page One, along with six other pages of copy and photos.
Both days’ press runs, meanwhile, have been bumped up by about 30%. “Our circulation manager has been on the road with piles of papers to replenish when they are selling out,” Miron said. “Stores, trading posts, and on the reservation.”
Miron, a former teacher, said she has only slept about five hours since Monday morning, and has been the only Pioneer reporter to travel to the reservation. Other reporters “are doing a lot on the phones and covering vigils and public meetings here in town,” she said. “The story now is how are they coping, and then the funerals. Gosh, 10 funerals to cover.”
The paper’s two sports reporters are unavailable as well, having to cover the area’s other major story — the Bemidji State University hockey team, preparing to play in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
“We are going to have a big overtime bill,” Miron said of the Pioneer, which is owned by Forum Communications of Fargo, N.D., which owns 27 dailies and weeklies and three television stations “But we will get the money someplace.”