Papers rush to cover wreck p.9

By: Dave Jackson Kankakee Daily Journal distinguishes itself with extra

Bob Themer, Town and Country editor for the afternoon Kankakee, Ill., Daily Journal, was readying for bed last Monday night when a TV news bulletin sent him scrambling for his work's phone directory. After seeing the story about the "City of New Orleans" Amtrak train derailment on a Chicago TV news station just after 10 p.m., Themer sent writer/photographer Bill Burns to the scene. Themer headed to the two area hospitals to take pictures of victims and of the staff waiting to respond.
Burns says he was at the scene for about seven hours, noting "a really eerie orange glow that filled the sky from the fire." When he first arrived, Burns says officials kept the media at a distance while trying to battle a blaze in the train's sleeper car.
Over the past few years, Burns says, the county has staged mock disaster drills, which helped at the wreckage. "They kept us at a distance," he says, "but they didn't try to stop us from getting things done. It was a very good relationship in that regard."
Phil Angelo, managing editor at the Journal, says countless hours, at this point, have been devoted to covering the story.
"We're constantly trying to assign stories right now," Angelo says. "We come in each morning and look at what we have done. We've used everyone in the city, area staff and features staff, and today we had the sports editor dummying Amtrak pages."
"What's unique with stories like this," Angelo says, "you're talking about 200 people on a train, and 200 rescue personnel and doctors. There are just a tremendous number of stories that could and should be written."
The Journal's Web site, located at, was receiving about 1,000 hits every five minutes, Angelo says.
Editors at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune echo the Journal's sentiments.
Larry Green, executive editor of the Sun-Times, says a reporter was dispatched to the scene immediately and a graphic designer, Greg Good, was called back to work from vacation to help. "An office at a local motel was established as a base," Green says. "Reporters used laptops and some of our photographers used digital cameras to transmit copy and photos back to the office," some 60 miles north of the accident.
"We met a couple times yesterday, mapping out what we were doing," Green says. "The most important decision we made was to put the photo and no words on the front page. The photo summed it up."
Paul Weingarten, associate managing editor for metropolitan news at the Tribune, says coordinating efforts for a major story is always hard to do. "Amtrak and NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] and other agencies were all trying to do their jobs," he says, but there was confusion at the scene in general.
"When there are that many people spread out all over," Weingarten says, "you depend on your reporters to have a good eye and think on their feet in the field."

?(Jackson is a freelance writer based in Elmhurst, Ill. He formerly wrote for the Kankakee Daily Journal, as well as various other newspapers. He may be contacted at [Caption]
?(Editor & Publisher Web [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher March 20, 1999) [Caption]


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