Tragic Link: Twin Cities Papers Get Care Package from Roanoke

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By: Joe Strupp It wasn?t much -- just a box of junk food goodies, the kind that reporters in the middle of a hectic, major story snack on to fill the hunger before the next deadline.

But to staffers at the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, it was a welcome gesture. And a sign that someone else understood what they had been going through since last Wednesday?s bridge collapse threw the area, and their newsrooms, into the chaos of covering a local tragedy of national proportions.

The boxes each newsroom received in recent days, filled with Moon Pies, pork rinds, and other treats, were likely meant more as a sign of sympathy than just a snack pack. That?s because those who sent them, editors at The Roanoke (Va.) Times, knew what their Twin Cities counterparts were going through.

It was just a few months ago that the Virginia paper was immersed in its own ongoing story of tragedy after the Virginia Tech shooting. And it continued a link. The Roanoke paper had received its own care package then -- from the Oklahoma paper that lived through the trauma of the Timothy McVeigh terror bombing.

?It was terrific,? said Scott Gillespie, the Star Tribune's managing editor, who said the paper received the box on Saturday. ?A number of people mentioned it to me and thought it was a great gesture.?

Across the river, where the Pioneer Press received its box from Virginia on Monday, similar views were offered. ?I thought it was really cool and we put it in the break room with the note they wrote,? said Thomas Fladung, Pioneer Press editor. ?It was very much appreciated, people came down just to read the note.?

The note in both cases came from Carole Tarrant, the editor in Roanoke, who explained that her newsroom had received a similar package from The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City.

"A few days after the Virginia Tech shootings, a large box arrived in our newsroom. Inside was a note and lots of stress-relieving junk food. The note was from Joe Hight, managing editor of the Oklahoman. Hight wrote that similar boxes arrived in his newsroom after the McVeigh bombings,? Tarrant wrote. ?He recalled what that gesture meant to his staff, which had been worn down to a nub covering the catastrophic community event. ... Please consider this a journalistic chain letter of sorts, one that you'll pass on when the next bulletin breaks in a newsroom somewhere in America."

While the box of edibles may not entirely relieve their stress and demands during this trying time, staffers said it has helped and brought some positive reinforcement. ?It was really nice,? said Star Tribune night editor Pam Miller. ?It is something we are going to pass on to the next big disaster. I don?t know, maybe it will be Utah after tonight.?

Meanwhile, Tuesday marked the first day since the tragedy that both Twin Cities daily papers had front pages not devoted solely to the bridge collapse. The Pioneer Press made the move Monday, offering some space to a non-bridge story for the first time since the tragedy occurred on Wednesday, while the Star Tribune did the same thing today.

The Star Tribune?s Gillespie said, after days of nothing but bridge news on Page One, a slight change was needed to handle reader fatigue. ?You just have to sense it, you can?t really do anything but have a gut feeling for it,? he said. ?My instincts are that they want definitive news on what factors in to the cause and they want to know about the day to day recovery efforts. But people are also sort of moving on, it is a new week.?

Fladung in St. Paul said he was not worried about readers becoming burnt out on the subject if there are new developments to report, and said he would fill the front page with bridge news if it warrants it. ?The story kept developing, we kept finding new evidence and educating ourselves and readers,? he said. ?I don?t know exactly what reader fatigue is. I think they get fatigued at something that is not new.?

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