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God dang there were some good stories in my two favorite papers the last couple of days.

Good stories get me excited…Can you tell?

First, The Star

:: Feature writer Don Bradley had an outstanding front-page story about America’s favorite road, Route 66, in Monday’s paper.

People from Europe, Australia and Asia — as well as the U.S. — are expected to converge on Joplin later this week for the “Route 66 International Festival.” It’s the first time the festival has been in Missouri.

I had no idea that the sense of adventure and nostalgia associated with the road had captured the imagination of people overseas, too.

routeThe story was accompanied by a graphic (compliments of Dave Eames) highlighted by images of old travel guides and two maps. One map showed the route from St. Louis down through the southwest part of the state — Rolla, Springfield, Carthage — to Joplin. The other traced the length of the road from Chicago to the Los Angeles area.

Bradley conveyed some excellent information, such as that 85 percent of the original highway, which has been decommissioned, is still in use as city streets and state and county roads.

“These days,” Bradley wrote, “you just have to work a little harder to get your kicks on Route 66.”

…One caveat about the story: The editors chose to run a couple of lame file photos on the “jump.” Too cheap to send a photographer out for a day or two to get some fresh, good photos.

P.S. A little background on Bradley…As a young man, he was a “runner” at The Star, delivering parcels from one department to another. One of the offices where he stopped regularly was that of the late Jim Hale, the first Star publisher after the paper was purchased by publicly traded Capital Cities (later Capital Cities/ABC, Inc.) in 1977. Bradley would chat regularly with Hale’s secretary, June Dacus, and told her of his dream of becoming a reporter. Dacus put in a good word for Bradley with Hale, and pretty soon Bradley found himself working in the second-floor newsroom.)

:: In the first of several stories The Star will run this week commemorating the 40th anniversary of George Brett’s first game with as a Kansas City Royal, columnist Sam Mellinger wrote about Brett’s call-up from Omaha and his first game as a Royal in 1973. (The Royals beat the White Sox in Chicago, and Brett got one hit in four times at bat.)

This story was 62 column inches long, enough to cover about 3/4 of a page. But it read like it was 30 inches. When I reached the end, I couldn’t believe I had read the whole thing, and I looked back to see if maybe I had skipped a column along the way…When a reporter can write a story that reads that fast, he’s really done a great job.

***

On to The Sunday New York Times

carolineI almost never read the SundayStyles section, although I should, but the cover story about Caroline Kennedy caught my eye and I dove in. In addition to 39 inches of rich, interesting information about Kennedy, whom President Obama has appointed to be the new ambassador to Japan, the story included compelling photos of Kennedy at various stages of her life, including when she was a teenager.

Two of the most interesting glimpses Kennedy that reporter Jacob Bernstein gave the readers were that Kennedy rides the subway in New York and socializes with people all across the political spectrum, including conservative media baron Rupert Murdoch.

***

Having been hooked by the Styles section, I proceeded to read two other excellent stories in the section…

:: Matteson Perry, a Los Angeles-based screen writer wrote about his romance with a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” One of her distinguishing and most alluring features was that she had a tattoo of a phoenix covering the left side of her torso…(Yes, Perry got to explore the tattoo and more.) The story was the latest in a series titled “Modern Love.”

Here’s how Perry summarized the make-up of an MPDG:

pixieThough often perky, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl will be troubled as well. She straddles the narrow line between quirky and crazy, mysterious and strange, sexy and slutty; she is perfectly imperfect. And that imperfection is the key, because a Manic Pixie Dream Girl must be messed up enough to need saving, so the powerless guy can do something heroic in the third act.

(Can we identify with that, fellas?)

The story of the romance, Perry said, was “one I stole from the movies.” Of course, the affair turned sour.

So our story ended, not with credits rolling to freeze our relationship in eternal bliss, but with crying and the division of possessions. (I kept the dining room chairs; she kept the old-timey typewriters.)

P.S. Perry is working on his first book, a collection of dating stories…I’ll be pre-ordering that book.

:: I finish with another fascinating “love” story — about a 59-year-old novelist, Joyce Maynard, and a 61-year-old lawyer, Jim Barringer, who teamed up on Match.com. Each was divorced with three grown children.

barringer

Barringer and Maynard…New York Times photo

The story — part of The Times’ “Vows” series — explored their contrasting personalities: He, patient, wry and brilliant; she, a person who lives “with lots of speed and soul.”

They were married on July 6 in a meadow in Harrisville, N.H. The bride and groom wrote their own vows. Part of Ms. Maynard’s vows went like this:

I love it that in your eyes, I am the babe of the universe, although that calls your eyesight into question…So long as I can walk, I will dance with you. I will bake you apple pies and never wear flannel nightgowns.

Let’s hope that this union fulfills the hope and promise we so often see at the end of a movie.

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How many of us get to have our last words transcribed and published?

No, not many. An intriguing exception are the men — and occasional woman — executed in the state of Texas. (I say “state of” because that place is truly a state unto itself; it’s not just another of “these United States.”)

In the Sunday New York Times, reporter Manny Fernandez wrote about the state’s tradition of transcribing inmates’ last words before they are injected with lethal chemicals as they lie strapped to a gurney.

Fernandez wrote:

“The state’s execution record has often been criticized as a dehumanizing pursuit of eye-for-an-eye justice. But three decades of last statements by inmates reveal a glimmer of the humanity behind those anonymous numbers, as the indifferent bureaucracy of state-sanctioned death pauses for one sad, intimate and often angry moment.”

For example, these were the last words of Thomas A. Barefoot, who was executed in 1984 for murdering a police officer:

“I hope that one day we can look back on the evil that we’re doing right now like the witches we burned at the stake.”

Full of irony, wouldn’t you agree? If I interpret him correctly, he condemned execution as “evil” but didn’t mention murder.

Texas gurney unit

Texas gurney unit. Note microphone above headrest.

Texas inmates being executed speak their last words into a microphone hanging above the gurney. Listening to their statements are lawyers, reporters, prison officials, inmates’ families and victims’ relatives — at least those relatives who want to be there, or can stand to be there.

Fernandez explained that the final statements are not recorded but transcribed by staff members listening in the warden’s office.  The statements are posted on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website, www.tdcj.state.tx.us/stat/ (click on “executed offenders”), and they are also posted on a blog called Lost Words in the Chamber.

A brief digression: One classic statement that is on the blog but that Fernandez did not use in his story was uttered by one Douglas Roberts in 2005…

“Yes, sir, warden. Okay, I’ve been hanging around this popsicle stand way too long. Before I leave, I want to tell you all: When I die, bury me deep, lay two speakers at my feet, put some headphones on my head and rock and roll me when I’m dead. I’ll see you in Heaven someday. That’s all, warden.”

Beneath these often curious and compelling final statements lies the question: What is the effect, if any, of these words? As Fernandez noted that “the power of their words to change the system or even heal the hearts of those they have hurt is uncertain.”

Fernandez quoted Robert Perkinson, the author of a book about the Texas prison system, as saying, “Most people about to be executed haven’t had a lot of success in school or life. They’re not always so skilled at articulating themselves…But I think many of these individuals are also striving to say something poignant, worthy of the existential occasion.”

To me, these statements are mesmerizing and read like a good novel that is hard to put down. And yet, it gives me an odd feeling because I know that the words have been preserved at the expense of innocent people having lost their lives. It certainly doesn’t seem fair that the words of the killers — each of whom have prison i.d. numbers — are immortalized, while the victims are reduced, in a sense, to little more than numbers.

But that’s the way it is in this instance, so, here you go…here are some more of these ultimate statements. Meanwhile, I think I’ll get to work on my own “final statement.”

***

“I deserve this.” Charles William Bass, convicted of murdering a Houston city marshal.

“Tell my son I love him very much. God bless everybody. Continue to walk with God. Go Cowboys! Love y’all, man. Ms. Mary, thank you for everything that you’ve done. You, too, Brad, thank you. I can feel it, taste it, not bad. Please.” Jesse Hernandez, convicted of killing an 11-month-old boy with a flashlight.

“Sir, in honor of a true American hero, ‘Let’s roll.’ Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” David Ray Harris, convicted of shooting a man to death after trying to kidnap the man’s girlfriend.

“My death began on August 2, 1991, and continued when I began to see the beautiful and innocent life that I had taken. I am so terribly sorry. I wish I could die more than once to tell you how sorry I am. I have said in interviews if you want to hurt me and choke me, that’s how terrible I felt before this crime.” Karl Eugene Chamberlain, convicted of sexually assaulting and killing a 29-year-old woman.

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While we wait for the Royals to resume their “win-now” season, there’s a lot of news to distract us.

I’m talking about news that all of us need to know, but which we’re not getting from The Star because it has blinders on to just about anything that isn’t local and isn’t produced by its parent chain, McClatchy Newspapers.

With the gloom and rain this morning, I had plenty of time to read Monday’s New York Times, and I want to call your attention to several interesting stories, none of which you would know about if you were reading The Star.

:: Because Congress is so polarized the Affordable Care Act probably won’t be getting needed amendments. 

The lead story in today’s NYT,  written Jonathan Weisman and Robert Pear, said that virtually no law “as sprawling and consequential” as the Affordable Care Act has passed without changes known as “technical corrections,” aimed at making sweeping laws more manageable. Not so with the Affordable Care Act, Weisman and Pear said.

“Republicans simply want to see the entire law go away and will not take part in adjusting it,” the reporters wrote. “Democrats are petrified of reopening a politically charged law that threatens to derail careers as the Republicans once again seize on it before an election year.

“As a result a landmark law that almost everyone agrees has flaws is likely to take effect unchanged.”

:: An aide who has totally gained President Obama’s ear during just the last three years is White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, 42.

Among other things, Obama relies on her for advice on judicial nominations, and she coordinated his response to the Boston Marathon bombings.

kathryn2

Ruemmler

An inside-the-A-section story by Jackie Calmes said that Ruemmler helped shape the major speech that Obama gave last Thursday, announcing new limits on the use of armed drones and asserting again that he wanted to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

When Obama went to Boston after the bombings in mid-April, Ruemmler went along at Obama’s request. “She came with us because there was information coming in, and he wanted one filter,” an Obama deputy chief of staff was quoted as saying. “He wanted Kathy.”

:: A dangerously wide gap has formed between the American people and their armed forces.

An Op-Ed piece by Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired Army lieutenant general, and David M. Kennedy, a retired history professor, said that the gap began forming after the government’s decision 40 years ago to drop the draft and go to a professional, all-volunteer force.

“For nearly two generations,” Eikenberry and Kennedy said, “No American has been obligated to join up, and few do. Less than .5 percent of the population serves in the armed forces, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II.”

The two men contend that “somehow, soldier and citizen must once again be brought to stand side by side.”

They suggest reinstating a draft lottery: “Americans neither need nor want a vast conscript force, but a lottery that populated part of the ranks with draftees would reintroduce the notion of service as civic obligation.”

:: Houston officials are considering razing the Astrodome, nicknamed the Eighth Wonder of the World after it opened in 1965.

The reason? To provide 1,600 parking spaces for the 2017 Super Bowl, to which Houston recently won the rights.

Jere Longman, a native of southern Louisiana, wrote a first-person story about the Astrodome and its lasting importance to Houston. Demolishing the Astrodome, he wrote, would be a desecration.

“Demolition would be a failure of civic imagination, a betrayal of Houston’s greatness as a city of swaggering ambition, of dreamers who dispensed with zoning laws and any restraint on possibility.”

Longman said that despite the signs of neglect (it was closed in 2008), the Astrodome “continues to summon a city’s innovative past and futuristic promise.”

“By contrast,” Longman said, “Reliant Stadium next door is a dull football arena, designed with all the imagination of a hangar to park a blimp.”

:: This last one might not qualify as “need-to-know” news, but it sure caught my attention.

Staff member Sam Roberts reported that officials with New York hospitals are expecting an upswing in births in late July and early August — nine months after residents stranded in their homes without electricity. You get the picture, don’t you: People had a lot of time on their hands, and a lot couples reached out, literally, to each other.

One couple that is expecting is 34-year-old Rachel DeGregorio, who has a doctoral degree in neuroscience, and her 33-year-old husband Scott, a radiologist. A baby boy, whom they plan to name Jack, is due July 24.

“I have documented the day Jack was conceived,” Rachel was quoted as saying. “We had sex three times.”

All I can say to that is that for just one day I’d like to be 33 again and have a horny girlfriend during a power outage.

***

P.S. At this writing, shortly after 11 pm. Monday, I see on kansascity.com that Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger has awakened from his long spring nap.

After virtually ignoring the Royals’ three-week-long, downward spiral, Mellinger tonight posted a column (which will be in the morning’s printed edition), saying, “Someone’s got to go.”

He says, among other things:

“The personalities best equipped for leadership may be (Jeff) Francoeur and (Mike) Moustakas, but each have been bad enough that they’re part of the discussion about what needs to change. Along with those two, hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David, (Manager Ned) Yost and Chris Getz could all be sacrifices in an effort to refocus a group that shouldn’t be nearly this bad. If things don’t improve, it won’t be long before owner David Glass looks at (General Manager Dayton) Moore.”

Sam’s in there with too little too late, but at least he — unlike a lot of the sports radio talk-show hosts — has called for heads to roll.

Best analogy I can think of is that when a machine stops working properly, you change out some of the parts to try to get it running pretty well again. You don’t let it continue to go clunk, clunk, clunk.

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Back on the slippery slope of newspaper circulation…

Alan D. Mutter, a former editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, said in his blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur, that weekday print circulation (just print, please note) at the top 25* U.S. newspapers has decreased by 41.6 percent since 2005.‬

Mutter, a former editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, called the drop a “troubling plunge.”

Print matters, Mutter went on to say, because it produces as much as 75 percent of revenue at a typical paper. In previous posts, Mutter has reported that between 2005 and 2012, advertising revenue dropped by more than half, from $49.4 billion to $22.3 billion.

By the way, 2005 was the all-time high for newspaper-advertising revenue.

Mutter

Mutter

For his circulation comparison, Mutter relied on statistics compiled by the Alliance for Audited Media, an industry-funded trade group formerly known as the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

(A Wikipedia article says the ABC changed its name last year “to reflect the new media environment and its members’ evolving business models.” Its “members” are the newspapers themselves.)

As newspaper “business models” have evolved, so have the rules by which the AAM counts circulation, making it more difficult to track trends.

As Mutter noted: “In addition to paid print newspapers, publishers today can count digital subscriptions and even free products that deliver preprint advertising to the homes of consumers who don’t happen to buy the newspaper.”

In other words, publishers are now jumping on every manner of distribution at their disposal to pump up circulation figures.

For example, the AAM circulation report released this week shows The Star with total average Sunday circulation, including on-line subscriptions, of 280,790. Its print circulation, however, is 242,395. The difference, 38,395, represents about 14 percent of total circulation.

What is going on at newspapers, then, is a high wire act that could go either way. As Mutter said:

“The foremost question facing publishers is whether the traditional print business will remain robust long enough to support a successful pivot to the digital delivery of news, information, advertising and other commercial services.”

A lot of people, especially the critics of “dead-tree media,” are betting that the print business will not remain robust long enough for papers to make the shift. They might well be right. I hope they’re wrong, but either way I’ll muddle along, and I’ll be happy as long as my New York Times hits the driveway every morning.

And I think that’s going to be happening for many years to come.

* The top 25 newspapers, as listed by Mutter in descending order, are: the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, New York Post, Arizona Republic, Newsday, Tampa Bay Times, Houston Chronicle, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Denver Post, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Sun-Times, Newark Star-Ledger, Orange County Register, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Las Vegas Review-Journal, San Diego Union-Tribune and Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

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Ever since the newspaper industry and TV began chasing the Internet Express, trying to catch up with the fast-changing way in which news was being gathered and reported, the news media’s credibility has sunk ever lower.

I don’t really know how it could have been avoided because if the old-line media organizations had not jumped on board — however awkwardly — they would have been left farther behind than they are. Still, this loss of credibility is just appalling to me and many other past and present members of the media.

What I’m talking about is the old media lowering the accuracy and editing bar that it had painstakingly established over generations. The first big belly dive into the mud occurred the night of the 2000 presidential election, when the major networks, including CNN and Fox, called Florida for Al Gore prematurely and later stamped George Bush as the winner of the presidential election — 19 days before the Florida vote count was certified and Bush declared the winner by 500 some votes.

As I recall, we at The Star were one of many news organizations that had Bush winning on our Web site. I believe that in the morning paper, we went with too close to call.

All in all, the media’s performance that night made the classic, 1948 Chicago Tribune headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman,” start to seem not so embarrassing in retrospect.

There have been many other erroneous, main-line-media Web site reports since the 2000 presidential election, but this week brought another new low: The Associated Press, The Boston Globe, CNN and Fox News all reported early Wednesday afternoon that an arrest had been made in the Boston bombings case, when, in fact, no arrest had been made.

A story by Bill Carter in yesterday’s New York Times said that CNN and Fox “spent about an hour discussing the news of an arrest with various correspondents and experts before backing off when they received further information.”

It was the same two networks that breathlessly reported — again erroneously — last June that the Supreme Court had overturned President Obama’s health-care-overhaul law.

I guess officials at some of these networks have come to the conclusion that if you don’t know for sure, run it anyway because it will seem to advance the story.

The last thing the network executives want, it seems, is anchors and reporters saying, “We’re waiting for new information.” The new credo at some networks and newspapers is There Can Be No Wait; It Must Be Now!

CNN’s John King was the first to set his network’s pants on fire when, at 12:45 p.m. Kansas City time, he reported that police had a bombing suspect in custody.

king

In his NYT story, Carter said that about 1:45 p.m., “one of CNN’s law enforcement experts…appeared on the air and reported and reported that he had three sources who assured him no arrest had been made.”

And how did CNN explain its screw-up? It issued this statement:

“CNN had three credible sources on both local and federal levels. Based on this information we reported our findings.”

Their “findings” were nothing more than “phantom findings,” and CNN should have apologized.

The Associated Press also didn’t see fit to extend its regrets about its messy reporting. Carter wrote: “Paul Colford, a spokesman for The Associated Press, said later in the afternoon that the news service did not ‘pull back’ from its original reporting, but only ‘added other reporting.’ ”

Well, now, that’s a fine kettle of fish, isn’t it? “Added other reporting…”

As the reactions of CNN and the AP indicate, the worst part of this “it-could-be-right-or-it-could-be-wrong” approach to Internet-era reporting is that there’s no need to apologize, no need to be embarrassed, just keep rolling out whatever some ding-dong whispers to the stressed-out, over-caffeinated reporters in the field.

Culminating his story, Carter quoted Judy Muller, a former network news correspondent who teaches journalism at the University of Southern California. She said:

“The rush to be first has so thoroughly swallowed up the principal of being right and first that it seems a little egg on the face is now deemed worth the risk.”

Quite often, people ask me if I miss working as a journalist. I always say that I don’t miss it at all and that I am happy to be out.

I respect the vast majority of journalists, especially my former Star colleagues, but I’ve got to say that when we started chasing the Internet back in the late 1990s, our “quality control” system — based on verified reporting, careful copy editing and several sets of eyes on every story in line for publication — quickly went to hell.

I could not come to grips with throwing under-reported, poorly edited stories up on the Web just to try to keep up with the local TV stations.

As a result of the free-wheeling reporting that has supplanted careful, verified reporting, the reputation of American journalism has, sorrowfully, slipped into a huge sinkhole, and I don’t know how it’s going to get out. It looks like it could go the route of that guy in Florida who was swallowed up by the earth and never resurfaced.

***

All that is not to say that some newspapers and networks have not done great things in opening new doors afforded by the Internet. For example, perhaps you saw that The New York Times won four Pulitzer prizes this week, for stories published in 2012, including John Branch’s spectacular feature “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.” I wrote admiringly about that story in December, a few days after it was published. I quoted Rebecca Greenfield of The Atlantic Wire Web, who said that the project “makes multimedia feel natural and useful, not just tacked on.”

The Times, with pockets deep enough to hire experts in every dimension of news gathering and presentation, has done the best job of melding newsprint journalism and electronic journalism. It also has resisted the urge, for the most part, to go with unverified reports in the race to be first on big stories. But, alas, even The Times got sucked in on the Bush “victory” on election night 2000.

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I missed President Obama’s inaugural address yesterday, but I caught the last part of the event and was excited and uplifted.

Indulge me in a few reflections and observations, if you will:

:: One of my foremost impressions of the inauguration was that it probably will be a long, long time before the nation sees a couple as handsome and appealing (appealing from the standpoint of vigor and well being) as Barack and Michelle Obama.

The day’s events were a photographer’s dream.

And how about Michelle? Wow, that woman knows how to dress! A fashion critic was quoted by CNN as saying her style is “ladylike with a twist.” The twist is that she always adds her own distinctive touch to her outfits.

My favorite photo, which appeared on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times, was this one by Times photographer Doug Mills

Barack

It perfectly captured the joy and celebration of the day.

…I know. You Republican readers are probably curling your upper lips and muttering uncharitable things about now. But how could anyone say that the first couple and their daughters Malia and Sasha did not emanate vigor and electricity?

:: Unfortunately, the inauguration wasn’t authentic from start to finish. I was shocked and appalled to learn Tuesday that a performing artist committed felony fraud.

I can almost always tell when a performer is lip-syncing, but I’ll be damned if Beyonce (accent aigu over the final “e”) didn’t slip one by me. And by almost all other viewers, I’m willing to bet.

At the end of her stirring rendition of the National Anthem, I was on my feet singing with her, just not quite as beautifully.

And then I learned today that she did, indeed, lip-sync.

What a chicken shit!

Kudos, however, to Kelly Clarkson, “American Idol” star, for her outstanding rendition — SUNG LIVE — of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”  Her performance prompted Sen. Chuck Schumer, master of ceremonies, to say, “WOW!”

(Also, who can forget Aretha Franklin’s rendition of the same song four years ago at Obama’s first inauguration? And, yes, she sang it LIVE.)

As for Beyonce (accent aigu over the final “e”), I never heard her sing and never paid any attention to her before yesterday, and she’s now won a spot in my personal trash bin of overhyped musical artists.

:: I’ve got to give credit to our hometown Kansas City Star, too, for the way it played the inauguration. A photo of a smiling and ramrod straight President Obama taking the oath of office, with Michelle holding two historic Bibles in her gloved hands, swept across the front page, down to the fold.

Good call at 18th and Grand. Surely, a lot of Democrats who don’t subscribe bought copies when they saw it in the newspaper stands.

:: A couple of weeks ago, a commenter to my blog predicted that Obama would go down as “the most hated President ever.”

I replied, “More hated than Nixon???”

And now, as the nation embarks on four more years under Barack Obama, I’m going to predict that he will be long remembered for, among other things, his achievements, his even temperament, his judicious choice of words, his humanness and, finally, for bringing us the finest first lady we could possibly ask for.

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If you’re sitting around today with some time on your hands, having taken at least a day off from the usual hurly-burly of life, I recommend that you plant yourself behind a computer — or go to a grocery store that’s open and get a copy of Sunday’s New York Times — and read “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.”

It’s a sensational story, written by sports features writer John Branch, about a group of experienced and top-flight skiers and snowboarders who, early this year, let the prospect of an exciting and challenging ski run override good sense; they ended up getting caught in an avalanche that killed three of them a mountain in Washington state.

The story was months in the making, and here’s the twist: It was done, first and foremost, with the Web in mind. It started on the Web site last Thursday and concluded a day later, I believe.

The story integrates video, photos, graphics and personal profiles of the main players like that has never been done before by a newspaper. Rebecca Greenfield of The Atlantic Wire Web said the project “makes multimedia feel natural and useful, not just tacked on.”

I saw the story on The Times’ home page last Thursday and realized from a glance at the title and a full-screen video of snow blowing off a mountain side that it was probably going to be very captivating. I resisted the urge, however, to jump into the Web version because I simply don’t like to read extremely lengthy stories online, while sitting at my desk.

On Sunday, The Times published a 14-page, special section with the story and accompanying photos and graphics. When opened, the entire front and back pages of the section depicted the back side of Cowboy Mountain — a so-called “backcountry” skiing area — where the disaster took place. A teaser at the bottom right-hand side of the front page said, “A group of world-class skiers and snowboarders set out to ski Tunnel Creek. Then the mountain moved.”

It took me at least a couple of hours to read and absorb the story and accompanying features, but the time flew by. Like a good writer can do, Branch transported me to Cowboy Mountain and I wanted to stay there until the drama had played all the way out.

johnbranch

John Branch

I couldn’t remember having read anything by Branch, but when I ran him through Google, I found that late last year he had written another in-depth feature called “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer.” That story, which ran over four days, tracked the career and related death of hockey player named Derek Boogaard. (I remember the series clearly, but I didn’t read it.)

Telling one interviewer how he got Boogard’s family to cooperate with him in doing the story, Branch said: “I committed to doing it right, taking time, and I told them we would probably put more resources into this than any other sports story this year.”

That was 2011…Well, he did it again this year — in an even bigger way — and the readers are the beneficiaries.

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