Papers Cover Bridge Collapse -- One Staffer Loses Car

By: Joe Strupp Both Twin Cities daily papers covered last night's tragic bridge collapse with full force, throwing dozens of newsroom staffers at the story and expanding print space. Neither paper reported having any staffers severely injured in the incident, but one Star Tribune circulation employee was apparently on the bridge when it collapsed and came away uninjured, but lost her car in the river.

Both papers are being credited with tracking down a 2005 Minnesota Department of Transportation inspection report, via online database searches, that indicated the bridge was "structurally deficient."

"Inspectors gave the bridge a sufficiency rating of 50 percent on a scale of 0 to 100 percent," the Pioneer Press reported. "A rating of 50 percent or lower means the bridge might need to be replaced."

Star Tribune Editor Nancy Barnes said her reporters found the report at around 11 p.m. after combing online data base sources. "We got it online and into our later editions," she said.

Those logging on to their Web sites this morning found a clear difference in the death toll.

For several hours this morning, the St. Paul Pioneer press site reported seven dead, a number that had been put forth last night, while the Star Tribune of Minneapolis had the latest update of just four deceased. In print, the Pioneer Press Thursday edition reported seven dead, while the Star Tribune had nine fatalities reported.

"They have dialed that back to four, we have to make sure it gets updated," Pioneer Press Editor Thomas Fladung said about the Web site. "We will continue to chase that number." Despite that informational glitch, the Pioneer Press claimed its busiest Web day ever on Wednesday, with 510,000 page views, Fladung said.

"We immediately sent four reporters and eventually had about 60 people overall, at least 20 reporters," he said about the incident that occurred at about 6:05 p.m. CDT. "We had a couple of people in Minneapolis who headed toward it and we arranged to have our own helicopter that we used." The Pioneer Press also obtained a video of the bridge collapsing from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, which went on their Web site at about 11 a.m. today. Online Editor Mike Reszler said a reporter worked sources to get it.

Star Tribune's Barnes said at least 75 newspeople out of her 300-person staff were on the story. "We pulled people from sports, business, features and everyone who was here," she said. Even the lone photographer assigned to cover the Minnesota Twins game was pulled and put on bridge duty, one of 15 shooters on the story for the Star Tribune.

Star Tribune Photo Editor Glen Stubbe said even a former employee, imaging technician Heather Munro, got into the coverage with images she shot just moments after the collapse because she was near the bridge at the time. "We had one photographer whose car was locked up in a lot that closed while he was covering the story so he had to walk about two miles."

As has become standard in such stories, each paper also put out a call for reader images and stories on their Web sites, posting many of those sent in.

"We discussed an extra edition last night, but decided we could do it on the Web," said Barnes, who did not have immediate Web traffic numbers, but believed it was one of the busiest days ever if not the busiest.

Both papers filled their front pages with the story. The Pioneer Press expanded coverage across three and a half inside pages, Fladung said, with two pages added to the overall paper to accommodate coverage. The Star Tribune added four pages to the paper and provided six pages of inside coverage, Barnes said. Neither paper had a major deadline delay and both bumped up their single copy press runs, the Pioneer Press by 20% and the Star Tribune by some 25,000 copies.

But while the Pioneer Press reported little difficulty with employees getting to work, the Star Tribune braced for some delays given the fact that the collapsed bridge is a westbound expansion of Interstate 35, bringing commuters into Minneapolis. "I am sure there will be problems," Barnes said, adding that she had taken an alternate route to work after being at the paper until 2:30 a.m. last night. "There is no way there can't be, it is a main highway to get into the city."


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