Shuttle Debris Lands in Small Texas Paper’s Backyard

By: Ari Berman

Updated at 10:55 a.m. EST

Gary Borders thought the 9/11 terrorist attacks would be the biggest event his newspaper ever had to cover, even though that disaster was centered more than a thousand miles way. Now a national tragedy has literally fallen on his home county in eastern Texas. Ever since hundreds of pieces of debris from the space shuttle Columbia landed almost literally in his backyard, Borders, publisher of The Daily Sentinel in Nacogdoches, and his staff have been at the forefront of covering the latest national tragedy.

Authorities had verified 800 fragments of the shuttle in Nacogdoches County at midday on Monday. National Guardsmen were guarding another 100 pieces, according The Daily Sentinel.

At 8 a.m. Central Standard Time (CST) on Saturday, reporter Emily Taravella felt her house shake. Soon afterward, Borders called his entire 15-person staff in to work. By 10 a.m. the first photo appeared on their Web site, http://www.dailysentinel.com/, which was updated as the day progressed.

By 8 a.m. CST Sunday, all 13,000 copies of that day’s paper were gone. Borders printed and sold another 1,500 copies at noon that day. The Monday edition sold out at 7 a.m. An extra 2,000 copies from Monday and an additional 8,000 copies from Sunday, the third reprint of that edition, then hit news racks Monday afternoon, with 3,000 extra copies planned for Tuesday. First edition copies of Sunday’s paper were being offered for $29.95 on eBay.

The Daily Sentinel has a weekday circulation of approximately 8,400 and a Sunday circ of about 11,500.

Borders added four pages to the Sunday edition and five pages to Monday and Tuesday editions. Coverage has focused on all aspects of the disaster, ranging from the search for debris to the instant media blitz and the effect on local residents.

Staffers worked to coordinate coverage between the Daily Sentinel and its sister papers, The Lufkin Daily News and Longview News-Journal, all owned by Cox Newspapers Inc. of Atlanta. Borders said he also provided office space to reporters from the Associated Press and Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

He said the magnitude of the event has yet to hit him. “It’s the third day and we’re still busy,” Borders said. “It’s hard for people to even comprehend how many pieces of debris are out there. This is a heavily wooded area. It’s not what you people usually expect Texas to look like.”

Taravella, a reporter for the paper, said local authorities have not slighted the local media, even after national print and television crews descended on the scene. At least one local reporter is always invited on police-conducted media tours of debris sites, she said.

Sue Kennedy, local judge and Nacogdoches County emergency management director, said she would not release the location of sites where human remains have been found. Kennedy instructed all reporters to direct questions concerning this issue to the FBI.

Borders said he is covering the explosion like he would a car crash. It’s important to get the news out, he said, but there’s no need to report graphic detail. A New York Times article Monday described how three boys from Plainview, Tex., stumbled across a charred leg while riding their four-wheel all-terrain vehicle.

Local volunteers have undertaken a recovery effort stretching from East Texas to western Louisiana.

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