‘Virginian-Pilot’ Devotes Entire Front Page to List of College Dead

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By: Joe Strupp

The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk devoted its entire front page Wednesday to a memorial-style list of those killed in the Virginia Tech shooting this week, with no stories or other images on the white-background page. The Page One design offered the paper’s name over a multi-colored ribbon, set in the university’s colors, and the lower case headline, “in memory of…”

Below that, the paper listed 31 of the 32 fatal victims in the deadly shooting, noting that the last person remained unidentified. Each listing included a short description or personal comment about the deceased, such as “was a star basketball player at Westfield High School in Chantilly” or “from Vienna, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, started a sorority to help women in her field.”

At the end of the list, the paper stated simply, “… killed in Blacksburg, Va., April 16, 2007.”

“We were talking most of yesterday about making today’s paper about the victims,” Managing Editor Maria Carrillo said about the approach. “To do what we could to the front page to give it a special look. We thought it accomplished what we wanted to accomplish, focusing on the people who were lost.”

The Page One image was a sharp change from Tuesday’s paper, which included a controversial photo of a bloodied victim being carried out by rescuers with a piece of a tourniquet hanging down that some readers thought was his penis, Carrillo said.

That photo drew at least 100 e-mails and phone calls from concerned readers, sparking Editor Denis Finley to write an editor’s note explaining who the man was, how he survived, and how the decision was made to run the photo.

“After discussing the photo and looking at the other choices, we decided to publish this photo because it so perfectly captured the horror of the event that unfolded just hours away from us,” Finley wrote. “We thought we would be irresponsible to try to sanitize this story. It is the second worst mass shooting in the history of the world, not the U.S., the world. To be squeamish at a time like this would not serve our readers. Did we outrage and disgust some readers and some of you? I am sure we did. But we felt like it was our obligation to capture the outrage and horror of this event.”

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