Well, The Star had a rough week on the personnel and management front, but it got back to its stock in trade Saturday, with breathtaking coverage (at least for me) of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
The editors played the story big, really big. Deservedly. They swung hard and hit a home run.
Above the fold — in large white letters on a striking, black background — the one-word headline “Horrific” jumped out at the reader. Below that was a margin-to-margin photo of Connecticut State Police officials shepherding a line of young students to safety, through a parking lot.
Above the word “Horrific” were three small sub-heads, centered left to right, that said: “School shooting leaves 20 children plus six adults dead;” “Shooter kills his mother at home and himself at school;” and “Principal, school psychologist are among the dead.”
Above the three sub heads was a thin white, separating line, capped with the words “TRAGEDY IN CONNECTICUT,” again in small font but all caps.
If you had been in a cave and out of contact with the news on Friday and you picked up The Star and looked at the top half of the front page, you would have the gist of the story in a few seconds. With just 30 strategically placed words and one large photo, The Star distilled a complex and far-reaching story that has shaken the nation’s underpinnings.
But that above-the-fold gut punch was only the start.
Below the fold, on the left side, was the main news story, picked up from The New York Times news service. (Smart choice.) To the right of that was a series of three small photos, with black borders that continued the color scheme above the fold. One of photos showed a woman wailing and talking on a cell phone. Another showed President Obama appearing to brush a tear away from the corner of his left eye.
The highlight of the page, however, was an opinion column by The Star’s Mary Sanchez, under the headline, “We must act now, for the children of Sandy Hook.”
Sanchez’ experience over many years, during which she has found her voice and honed her style, gave her the confidence and depth to assemble the most profound column she has ever written. Her call for gun control was restrained but very impassioned, and it brimmed with clean, clear, powerful sentences.
Consider her first two paragraphs:
“The nation has a duty to protect its tiniest, most vulnerable citizens. Our children.
“America is failing at this task, and the proof is lying in Connecticut morgues.”
She went on to say, “If the slaughter of a classroom of children isn’t enough to press for reasonable gun control, then nothing will help America. We might as well hand out NRA memberships with birth certificates.”
The coverage then “jumped” to page 16, where the lead news story and Sanchez’ column continued. On the facing page (17) were a timeline of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings since the mid-1960s and three more stories. The Associated Press and New York Times produced two of the stories, but the third one — about schools being designed increasingly with safety as a top consideration — was written by The Star’s higher education writer, Mara Rose Williams.
Williams, a widely respected veteran within the newsroom, told about some of the safety features in new school-building designs, including double-door entries. At schools with such doors, Williams said, “Visitors are required to show an identification card, be photographed by cameras and answer questions through an intercom system at the door before being buzzed in by a secretary.” The idea being to keep potential intruders at the front door.
Adding to the impressiveness of the story was the fact that Williams assembled the story using only local sources — two architects and the Kansas City School District superintendent.
If all that coverage wasn’t enough, when you turned to the back pages of the section, the lead editorial collared you with this arresting headline: “Weep for the children, then pass sane gun laws.”
One of the most biting paragraphs went like this:
“If 26 persons were killed in a bridge collapse, we would have an immediate discussion about fixing our bridges. It makes no sense to continually skirt around the gun issue when innocent people keep dying from gun violence.”
Friday was not only a day for the country to remember but a day to be remembered locally for The Star’s ability to rise to the tremendous challenge of distilling and capturing the horror and import of what might go down as one of the most heinous events in our nation’s history.
The Star acquitted itself beautifully, and for that I am immensely proud of my former employer.