The terror raids in Britian early Thursday morning left newspapers choking in the dust of their speedier electronic media counterparts — our print editions were thumping onto people's doorsteps with the news of the raids a full 24 hours after the news broke.
Couple that with a dreadful dearth of real "terror" related art and you had front page designers across North America pulling their hair out. A plot to bring down up to 10 planes, killing thousands of people, was clearly big news, but how to cover it? A look at five fronts (the four Toronto dailies and us) shows some very different thinking at work. And no one was quite as differrent as we were.
In a real preview of the kind of reporting Spec editors see as a key to our
future, we didn't blow-up the front page (the way the Post did). We didn't grab pictures of guys with guns and mate it to a Main 'wrap' story (the way the Star did). Nor did we drown the story in a flood tide of ink and columns of words, (Hello good grey Globe!).
Instead, designers here focussed on utility — how does this story affect me. Now.
Thus we led with a back-lit photo of a row of innocuous-looking consumer products (pop, water, toothpaste) that we're all banned from bringing aboard airlines. Beneath the photo an almost ironic headline: New Weapons of Terror. And instead of a story we ran a triptych: bullet point updates, a list of banned goods and a short statement from our transport minister. On a day when you can be pretty sure most media is going to be verging on the hysterical, our approach certainly stood out.
Roger passed along this note he got from an American editor and swears it wasn't solicited:
Greetings Roger and Howard,
I am the readership editor at the Post-Standard in Syracuse, and I'm wrestling with a lot of the issues your newsroom did years ago.
If I may impose: Would you describe for me how your paper came up with today's A-1?
I loved it. I'm convinced the current structure/culture/whatever in our newsroom couldn't have produced anything like it. I am, however, lacking insight into how it happened in Hamilton.
Brothers, can you spare a few sentences of explanation?
So, we had a least one fan. But did we downplay this story? Could be be accused of almost making light of it?
I tend to like the weight we've given the thing, (although I think calling this thing a "sophisticated terror plot" seemed jarringly hyberbolic in the absence of any real evidence) and like that we're not doing the terrorists' work for them by spreading panic. But others may differ.
What think you?