Press mobilizes to cover Kosovo p.9

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By: Lucia Moses and Joe Strupp Following the NATO air strikes, reporters draw on Iraqi experience, and
articles focus on 'where' and 'why,' provide more graphics, maps, history

War is always big news. But in the case of last week's NATO bombing of Yugoslavian military targets, it also became a learning experience for many newspaper readers.
Newspapers around the United States plastered their front pages with war coverage after the attack, with heavy emphasis on the "where" and the "why." Editors say their readers' lack of familiarity with the Balkan conflict prompted an increased use of graphics and background stories.
"I think we have to continue to translate to readers why we're there," says Tampa (Fla.) Tribune deputy managing editor Donna Reed.
After hovering at the top of wire budgets for days, the actual attack hardly caught newspapers by surprise, which helped in planning coverage. Many added pages to accommodate extra stories, pushing local stories down on Page One or inside and built in-depth coverage on their Web sites.
Wire services such as Gannett News Service (GNS) provided large amounts of background material, including maps, demographic information, weapons information, time lines, and regional history.
"A lot of our readers have not exactly been keeping up with this over the past 18 months," says Jeff Stinson, managing editor for news at GNS. "We need to explain to readers how American servicemen and women got in harm's way."
Internet users logged on to national news Web sites in record numbers to get information and share opinions, Web managers say.
CNN.com received 1,700 e-mail comments from Web users the day of the attack ? up from the daily average of 600 ? with nearly half commenting on the bombing, says spokesman Kerrin Roberts.
Roberts says chat room activity also increased following the attack, with an average of 400 people in chat rooms after bombs first fell, the busiest since President Clinton's impeachment, when the average chat level reached 600 people.
"We see this whenever there is a major story," Roberts says. "This story also has so many angles."
At MSNBC.com, the joint Web page of NBC and Microsoft, the number of site users jumped from the daily average of 275,000 to 1.4 million the day of the attack, says spokesman Ben Billingsley.
Coverage at daily newspapers took several forms depending on each paper's size, location, and resources.
The Los Angeles Times, known for its global resources, carried reports from Washington, Kosovo, and the local area, says Leo Wolinsky, managing editor for news. The Times had sent a reporter to Kosovo months earlier and hired a Kosovo-based photographer the day of the attack.
"We still consider it a pretty big deal," Wolinsky says of military coverage. "It had a long period of conflict leading up to it, which included genocide and the first real NATO attack."
Wolinsky says the Times had a four-column Page One headline for the March 24 issue, which included two front-page photos, a map, and three inside stories.
The next day, coverage increased with three stories on the front, a six-column headline, and 70% of Page One devoted to the attack.
Newspapers near military bases and ethnic Balkan populations scrambled to produce local stories.
The Tampa Tribune and the Birmingham (Ala.) News sent reporters to their local refueling units. But at some small papers, such as the 9,000-circulation Dodge City (Kan.) Daily Globe, the bombing didn't rate the same space as a local murder trial.
"Most of our readers will not be able to see the murder trial on TV, but they have been bombarded with Kosovo coverage there," says managing editor Brian Reetz.
Speciality newspapers treated the story differently.
American Srbobran, an English-language, twice-monthly paper for Pittsburgh's ethnic Serbs, focused on the war's impact on citizens, editor Louis T. Cherpes says.
"The phones have been ringing off the wall" from people having a hard time finding relatives, he says. "We may try to narrow the coverage even more to give the human-interest side of the story."
The Army Times, a Gannett-owned weekly for the military community, planned to look at how the Serbs would treat prisoners of war and at the air campaign, says executive editor Tobias Naegele. "This is the biggest threat to the pilots."
Most journalists left Yugoslavia Thursday under expulsion orders. Associated Press spokeswoman Tori Smith says it's maintained copy and photo flow, despite those challenges.
Some major newspaper editors say covering the bombing seemed less hectic than in 1991, when the United States attacked Iraq. Prior to that, military assaults on other countries had been rare since the Vietnam War.
Editors say, since the United States had conducted an attack on Iraq just a few months ago, they were experienced in what was needed, with maps, graphics, and historical data ready and waiting.
"We've gotten quite used to it since the Iraq bombing in 1991; it's pretty much the same thing each time," says Mike Townsend, managing editor of the 175,000-circulation Des Moines (Iowa) Register. "They usually [attack] at night, the president comes on TV shortly after, and you get a lot of images from TV."
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http:www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher March 27, 1999) [Caption]

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