Papal 'playbook' pays off for Post-Dispatch p.9

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By: David Noack Advanced planning bolstered extensive daily coverage, commemorative roundup of the Pope's 31-hour visit

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch employed military-style planning in the newsroom to help capture the spirit, character, emotion, and excitement of Pope John Paul II's visit to this Mississippi River city.
From two special sections prior to the Pope's plane touching down at Lambert Field, to an "Extra Edition" following a papal mass that has sold more than 400,000 copies, to a commemorative roundup of the week's historic events, the Pulitzer Publishing Co.'s flagship newspaper devoted unlimited resources to covering what is a once-in-a-lifetime story.
The final price tag is not yet in, but may be $100,000 for overtime, extra supplies, equipment, lodging, food, telephones, added cell phone time, radios, photo equipment, extra money for broadcast.com's audio and video feed, and even sending a reporter to Rome and Mexico City, says a key editor involved in coverage planning.
Pope John Paul's 31-hour, whirlwind visit was a grueling exercise in providing readers with a comprehensive package of stories and photos, all compressed into a few short hours.
More than 100 stories and 60 photographs appeared last week during the height of the coverage on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, with the paper devoting most its front section to papal coverage. In all, including a special section on Jan. 24, the paper devoted 48 pages to papal coverage.
Editor in chief Cole C. Campbell, in a memo to staffers following the Pope's visit, proudly admitted the paper went overboard in its coverage but that was just the point.
"We captured the spirit of the occasion in words and images and presented it with flair in well-crafted pages and sections. Given the great girth of our use of photography, design, and tight writing we still respected the time readers have to give to our newspaper every day," penned Campbell.
Assistant managing editor Margaret Freivogel says more than just reporting on the rush of events during the Pope's visit, the paper will be providing a historical record.
"A newspaper can shine in these circumstances not only by doing a better job reporting the event but by providing a historic or keepsake kind of presentation that people can hold onto," says Freivogel, who also coordinated the papal news coverage.
But long before reporters, editors, and photographers hit the streets for the papal visit, planning started last summer and accelerated after Thanksgiving. The newsroom was faced with what appeared to be a logistical nightmare, namely how to deploy dozens of reporters and photographers, coordinate coverage and copy flow, and put out the best product sometimes within a few hours.
Night metro desk chief Ed Kohn and metro editor Jim Mosley both say that reporters covering the Pope's visit were working off an "elaborate" schedule that pinpointed what they would cover, where they would be, and when copy was expected back at the paper.
While planning for the Pope's visit paid off, editors also had some experience in how to handle a rush of interest in a local story when Mark McGwire belted his 62nd home run, breaking the record of Roger Maris. For example, while the Papal "Extra Edition" has sold roughly 400,000 copies at this point, the McGuire "Extra Edition" sold 3 million copies.
Kohn drafted a papal coverage playbook that went into detail about what reporters would be covering, who would be lead reporter, who would contribute to the story, how long the story would be when the story was due. Extra cell phones, two-way radios, extra batteries, and dedicated telephone and fax lines to the paper were all in place.
More than 50 hotel rooms and a condominiums were rented where reporters camped out in case of traffic problems and to be strategically placed near event sites.
While the Papal visit was a news event in itself, the chief of the paper's capital bureau in Jefferson City, Terry Ganey, got a tip about the Pope asking Gov. Mel Carnahan that he commute the death sentence of convicted killer Darrell J. Mease. On Thursday's front page, the paper ran a copyrighted story on the development.
"I had gone to bed at 11:30 p.m., Tuesday, and got up at 3:30 a.m., Wednesday, to prepare for covering the papal mass. I covered and wrote the mass story Wednesday afternoon, and then found myself writing the 'Mercy on Mease' story at 9:30 p.m., Wednesday, on deadline. It was a hoot. One of the most exciting moments of my career," says Ganey.
Jan Paul, the online editor of Postnet.com, the online service of the Post-Dispatch, says the Web site provided up-to-the-minute stories of the fast-changing events throughout the visit, including live audio and video broadcasting.
"We saw this as an opportunity to not only chronicle this historic event for St. Louisans and validate the experiences of those who participated but to let people outside of our market experience it for themselves. For example, I heard from a St. Louis transplant to North Carolina who was grateful to be able to watch it on our site," says Paul.

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?(copyright: Editor & Publisher January 30, 1999) [Caption]

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