In A Flash p. 10

By: Jack Bass WHEN AN EXPLOSION rocked Centennial Olympic Park at 1:19 a.m. on Saturday, July 27, Atlanta Constitution editor Ron Martin was asleep in his weekend home in the north Georgia mountains.
The months of planning Olympic coverage had paid off in a smooth operation, and Martin had left the office early enough to reach his weekend retreat for dinner.
In order to publish what in effect amounted to two newspapers simultaneously each morning ? the regular edition and a daily "Atlanta Games Special Report," up to 48 broadsheet pages of comprehensive news, features and results from the Olympics ? roughly 100 "loaners" had been brought in from the 15 daily Cox Newspapers.
By 1:30 a.m., Martin had been awakened by a call about the explosion four short blocks from
the newspaper.
"We didn't know then if it was an electrical explosion, a bomb, or what," Martin said. He pulled himself together and, after watching Tom Brokaw give the breaking details on NBC television, got in the car with his wife and headed south through the early morning darkness to Atlanta.
At Olympic Park, three of the Cox Newspaper loaners had joined the happy, milling crowd for the end of a late evening concert celebrating the end of the Olympics' first week. Within minutes after the explosion, one of them, Gary Patrick of the Grand Junction, Colo., Daily Sentinel, ran back to the newsroom to tell the handful of editors still on duty that there had been an explosion.
Ron Rollins and Patrick Rini, a pair of seasoned copy editors from the Dayton Daily News, transformed themselves into reporters inside the park. The lone late night photographer on duty was Justin Williams, an intern from the University of North Carolina. He grabbed cameras, ran to the scene, and captured it with a stunning color photo that covered half the front page of Saturday morning's final home delivery edition.
When managing editor John Walter returned to the newsroom from home between 2 and 2:15 a.m., Rollins and Rini were dictating to copy editor Gerdeen Dyer. Walter had ordered the presses stopped about 1:45 a.m., before leaving home.
"A dozen or so folks had gotten in during the first hour," Walter said. "We made the commitment to get to press as quickly as we could. We divided up folks who showed up."
By 3:30 a.m., the presses were running again, with Rollins and Rini's bylines on a front-page lead story and a full page of black-and-white pictures. A second edition involved replating eight other pages, included the main sidebar and graphics. The last edition, which went to press at 6:30 a.m. and made a delayed home delivery for tens of thousands of subscribers, involved replating of an additional eight pages of moving copy around and killing inappropriately cheery features.
This edition included half a dozen sidebars and the full-color photo that dominated the front page. An all-caps, 144-point streamer, PARK EXPLOSION, ran across the top of the page, with three bullet subheads: "2 reported killed as blast rips through crowd," "Other threats called in," and "FBI takes over probe." Three inside pages included half a dozen sidebars and graphics.
The front-page photo captured a panorama of rescue workers and security officers at work, lights flashing on their vehicles. Williams had taken it within half an hour of the explosion.
"Justin and the lab technician picked it out as the best shot," said John Glenn, director of photography who arrived back at the newspaper about the same time as Walter. "It provided an overview of the chaos and the quick reaction of emergency crews ? that photo tells it."
Mike Luckovich, the hard-edged Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, had worked all day Friday, producing cartoons for the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday newspapers. He had left the concert in Centennial Olympic Park with his wife about 12:30 a.m. and taken the baby sitter home when his brother called from Seattle to ask if he was OK. "I didn't know what he was talking about," Luckovich said.
After turning on his television and watching the news unfold, Luckovich knew that none of his three cartoons would be appropriate. One was of a woman at Olympic Centennial Park with her leg in a cast and holding a sign saying, "Sprained my ankle at Olympic Park ? am available for endorsements."
Another showed O.J. Simpson, who had been visiting Atlanta with high celebrity visibility, with the lightening bolts of the comic Olympic mascot "Izzy." In the cartoon, kids pointed at O.J. and said, "It's the Olympic mascot ? Killzy."
The third cartoon involved airplane terrorism.
"When something like this happens," Luckovich said a couple of days after the explosion, "it changes the whole complexion of the kind of cartoons ? they can't be trite or playful."
Before 2 a.m., Luckovich had called security at the newspaper to get through to the newsroom. The process took almost 10 minutes before he finally got to Ellen Voss, a key news editor for the special daily Olympic section. She arranged to pull his work from the editorial pages of both the Saturday and Sunday newspapers and substitute innocuous syndicated cartoons.
Meanwhile, editorial page editor Cynthia Tucker also had been awakened at home by a call from an out-of-state friend. Jay Bookman, associate editorial page editor who lived two blocks from where Tucker resides, a seven-minute drive to the office, also called.
"I picked him up to see what we could do," Tucker recalled two days later. "I realized we had a Sunday editorial and op-ed pages dedicated to a cheery look about the Olympics. We had a lead editorial on women in the Olympics. I had a column on grace and courage in the Olympics. Jim Wooten (editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal, which shares the Sunday paper) had a column on how wonderful a place Olympic Centennial Park was."
At 3 a.m., Tucker and Bookman learned that the deadline for any changes in the "bulldog edition" of the fat Sunday paper was 5:20 a.m.
"We tore up the pages," Tucker said. "We talked about a new editorial. There's no advice to be given. All you can do is reflect on what you know your nation and community were feeling: shock and horror. Jay wrote the lead article. The writing was solely his."
Headlined: "The pain of terror," the editorial opened with a reflection of how beautiful Friday evening had been at Centennial Olympic Park, "People just hanging out, sharing time.
"Then the nightmare began. A bomb, an explosion, and then confusion and terror and pain.
"The sick thing is, someone, somewhere, took hateful satisfaction in all that. That's what gnaws at you . . . . However the news hit, the reaction was probably universal: heartache, disbelief and anger."
The editorial concluded, "This was not a lapse in security; to the contrary, the security response was quick and professional, and undoubtedly saved a number of lives. The bomb had been spotted and people had begun to be cleared from the area before it went off.
"This is simply a risk inherent in any large gathering, and it is impossible to eliminate that risk.
"We eliminate the risk only by eliminating the commonality. And again, that is not an option."
The Sunday bulldog edition, which is delivered early Saturday evenings to convenience stores and other locations, usually is put to bed on Friday night, and the presses start rolling at 8 a.m. on Saturday.
Walter recognized when he arrived that he faced two problems. One was getting out the regular Saturday edition telling the story. The second problem involved remaking the Sunday bulldog edition.
"We wanted to put news in it," Walter said. "We wanted to kill a 'fun and games at the Park' story."
At a 4 a.m. news conference, he peeled off Voss and Lea Donosky, the feature editor for the daily Olympics section, and assigned them to go through the Sunday paper, page by page, to see what had to be changed and to draw up a budget.
Meanwhile, more editors and reporters were reporting in, some 50 or so altogether, and Walter and Olympics edition editor Thomas Oliver were giving assignments for both the Saturday and Sunday editions. The final Saturday edition closed at 6 a.m. and began coming off the press at 6:30 a.m. Saturday sales totaled 613,000, 102,000 more than the Saturday average for the month of June and the highest Saturday sales ever.
At 6 a.m., a final editorial news conference was held for the Sunday bulldog edition. Frank Cerabino, a columnist and feature writer on loan from the Palm Beach Post, wrote the lead story that ran in all Sunday editions. It went under a banner headline, "Fans crowd city; search continues."
In his lead, Cerabino reported, "Centennial Olympic Park will remain closed this morning as investigators hunt for a bomber who put Olympic flags at half-staff with an 'improvised' pipe bomb hidden in a knapsack." For the home edition, the front page keyed eight inside pages filled with news and features that the staff wrote on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Luckovich went back to the drawing board Saturday with a new cartoon for Monday morning. It depicted the young American gymnast Kerri Strug as a metaphor for Atlanta and the Olympics, with a cast on her leg labeled "Terrorism." The caption said, "I couldn't let an injury stop me."
Walter, who worked for newspapers in Washington, Baltimore and elsewhere before coming to Atlanta with Martin from USA Today in 1989, glowed quietly about the commitment of the dozens of staffers who shuffled back to the newsroom during the early hours of Saturday morning.
He said in his usual words of understatement, "It was really rewarding to see folks do that."
Martin got to the newsroom before the final replating for the Sunday bulldog edition, but credits Walter and Oliver as the key players. "We were so pleased with our staff and those on loan from other papers," Martin said. "They've done an absolutely unsurpassable job."
On Monday afternoon, while reporters worked on fresh leads about the bomber, Walter got an emergency call. His 6-year-old son had broken his arm. Less than two hours later, his son comfortable at home, Walter was back in the newsroom.
?(The Atlanta Journal and Constitution published three Saturday editions following the blast. The first went to press about two hours after the 1:19 a.m. explosion. The third, which involved replating of an additional eight pages, moving copy around and killing inappropriately cheery features, included half a dozen sidebars and a full-color photo that dominated the front page. ) [Photo & Caption]

?(Mike Luckovich, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Atlanta Journal and Constitution editorial cartoonist, had worked all day Friday, producing cartoons for the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday newspapers. After the blast, Luckovich knew that none of his three cartoons would be appropriate. He prepared a special cartoon for the Sunday newspaper, depicting injured American gymnast Kerri Strug as a metaphor for Atlanta and the Olympics, with a cast on her leg labeled "Terrorism." The caption said, "I couldn't let an injury stop me.") [Photo & Caption]

Bass is professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard, he worked 10 years as a prize-winning reporter and editor in the Carolinas. His book, Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., and the South's Fight Over Civil Rights, received the 1994 Robert Kennedy Book Award) [Caption


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