Alternative Papers Rip Up Fronts to Cover Terrorist Nightmare

AAN members share copy and photos coast-to-coast

As the stunning events of Tuesday unfolded, many alternative newsweeklies were in the final stages of putting their papers to bed.

One by one, editors, publishers, reporters and columnists succumbed to the irresistible pull of an historic event and ditched their covers on fall, Maine oysters, sex in the city, and other subjects that suddenly seemed irrelevant.

In the hours following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, reporters and freelancers in New York, Washington and Boston began pouring their words into the newsrooms of AAN papers all along the East Coast. Across the country, alternative-newspaper editors clamored for news as their own writers tore up their regular columns and reporters went after local angles.

By Tuesday evening, editors at The Village Voice, Washington City Paper and the Nashville Scene agreed to share their stories with other AAN papers, and the Voice had arranged to sell its dramatic WTC photos.

AAN routed stories and photos to papers on deadline. By Wednesday, several papers had gone to print with material provided from colleagues at other AAN member papers, and many newsweeklies had those stories and others posted on special pages on their Web sites.

“The fact that in the middle of all this, editors from weekly papers around the country are thinking about each others’ papers strikes me as extraordinary,” says Michael Tisserand, editor of Gambit Weekly in New Orleans.

“The co-operation, shared resources, and generously shared copy among the AAN community was impressive and most welcome,” agreed Clif Garboden of the Boston Phoenix.

Here are a few of the deadline tales from AAN editors:

Clif Garboden, Boston Phoenix: We changed all three Phoenix covers (Boston, Portland, Providence) yesterday. In Boston, we blew away our annual Fall Preview cover and replaced it with a WTC photo. The supplement is still running, so the Fall Preview hype became an overhead line. For coverage, we assigned our writers and any available freelancer (here or in NYC or Washington) or intern to come up with short-takes on some collateral aspect of the terrorist attacks. We posted these on our Web site throughout the day as they came in. Then we compiled them into one package, which, at the moment (we’re still in production) includes at least two pieces contributed by other AAN papers. Our actual cover story is a one-page overnight piece on the media and terrorism written by senior writer Dan Kennedy. To fit everything in, we tabled a long profile/interview with P.J. O’Rourke (whose Boston appearance is cancelled anyway—although we didn’t know that when we held the piece). Portland shipped last night with short pieces but without Kennedy’s story; they replaced a cover illustration for a food piece on Maine oysters. Providence, I believe, started out with two news stories on its cover and an illustration that went with a local theater review. Providence shipped this morning so they were able to run our short takes as well as Kennedy’s opus.

Connye Miller, The Local Planet Weekly: We had a “sex in the city” issue already on the page. Our cover featured a blow-up doll attacking the city. We decided at 8:30 a.m. to hold the package and cover. We’re in process of putting together an 11th hour package that focuses on what folks in our community can do—donate blood, talk to their kids, remain calm and supportive of Middle-Eastern students in the area. We’ve gone out to interview several religious leaders at an African American Methodist Church and a Buddhist prayer center—among others—for advice.

Mark Zusman, Willamette Week: Like almost all AAN papers, we scrapped our cover yesterday and put together, in a remarkably short period of time, nine stories related to the tragedy of Tuesday.

Kathryn Eastburn, Colorado Springs Independent: We changed our cover on Tuesday. We put together a package this morning, most of it dispatches from sister papers on the East Coast, specifically the Boston Phoenix, Washington City Paper and Village Voice. We ran an op-ed culled from … We found photos at and purchased one from a Village Voice photographer on the scene.

Mary Anna Towler, City Newspaper, Rochester, NY: We publish on Wednesday, and by the end of the day on Monday our cover’s complete, layout thumbnails are done, and we’re turned to text-flowing and page print-out. Cover and lead news piece for this week was to be a piece on environmental problems associated with a local ferry proposal. Yesterday morning we held a staff meeting and determined that the NYC-Washington attacks made that piece seem trivial and we’d need a new cover and new lead story. Edit staff discussed what we felt we’d be able to say with authority, given what little info we had. Our decision: to urge caution, and plead against retaliation. We assigned one writer to do the piece, and production staff and managing editor started trying to reach papers in New York and the AP. By early afternoon, we felt chances of getting good art weren’t good; took a few photos off the television screen; decided to use text (“After the pain” — an Emily Dickinson quote) and a simple illustration of an olive branch. About an hour before our printer’s deadline, thanks to the efforts of Richard Karpel and our ME, we connected with The Village Voice and got a stunning WTC photo, which we used inside with the article.

Chuck Thurman, Coast Weekly: We tore up the front half of the book and modified stories in back. It was a pretty thorough overhaul of the paper that included interviews with foreign policy experts at the local Monterey Institute of International Studies, a look at security at the local Defense Languages Institute, a new angle for the World Music Festival (with bands coming in from around the globe), etc.

Erin Sullivan, Metroland: We ditched a lot of our regular news and features ideas for this week to put the WTC stuff on the cover and as our lead news feature. …. We’re going to run a photo essay of events and scenes from around our region yesterday—vigils, blood banks (which overflowed with people), crisis centers, schools, whatever. We’re also trying to get a couple of our friends down in NYC to submit very short essays to accompany the photos.

On our news pages, we plan to publish info on the cancelled primaries, where to volunteer, where to donate blood, where to call if you can’t find loved ones, etc. We’re also looking at articles being written in Boston, Washington, New York, etc., and will probably pick up a few to add to this series of stories.

Howard Altman, Philadelphia City Paper: Shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday, after the enormity of events began to sink in, we decided to scrap our cover. This was no small feat, as the cover was our annual Fall Guide, which had been specially designed using a high-end photographer. Also, it was sold to advertisers as the Fall Guide. After a brief discussion between myself, Publisher Paul Curci, Managing Editor Frank Lewis and Arts Editor Debra Auspitz, we determined there really was no choice. We had to not only scrap the front page, but rip out the news section and send a small army of reporters out into the field, in Philadelphia, New York and Washington, to find out what was going on. … All in all, a very trying and challenging day.

Patricia Calhoun, Westword: We go to press Tuesday afternoon, and since we didn’t think we were going to add much to the national dialogue/knowledge base by then, simply reconfigured space so that our media columnist could top his existing column with 1100 words. But then, our cover story also happened to be a piece on Colorado’s Camp Amache, one of 10 concentration camps built in the West during WWII to hold Japanese-Americans, and we couldn’t imagine a more important and, oddly, timely piece than that to run. So I slapped in an editor’s note directing readers to the story, and that’s where we left it.

Dan Pulcrano, Metro Silicon Valley: We changed our cover and ran a short package of pieces of picked up and original material.

John Fox, Cincinnati CityBeat: We changed our cover yesterday. It was supposed to be an annual thing we call “That’s Soooo Cincinnati” where readers submit … items about living in Cincinnati. We had a cover photo of a perky young woman in Octoberfest getup (Cincinnati has the country’s largest Octoberfest, which is this coming weekend) with a very low-cut blouse. A black bar was placed over her chest with the word “Censored” on it and the headline “That’s Soooo Cincinnati!” We still ran the thing as an inside feature (with the photo in black and white instead of full color as it would have been on the cover). For the cover, we packaged together three news stories dealing with international issues (local anti-globalization protesters, the local fire department dealing with a wave of Latino immigrants, one of our writers talking about his recent trip to South America). We made the cover very spare, just text and three small photos and the hed: ‘We Are the World.’”

We thought that was more appropriate and respectful of the situation, although we had only one column in the paper directly addressing Tuesday’s events.

Ken Edelstein, Creative Loafing: When the jets crashed early Tuesday, Creative Loafing/Atlanta was already on the presses. Even if we’d stopped the presses (which we considered briefly), it was too early to have much to say, particularly something that would make sense for a weekly.

Our sibling papers—Creative Loafing/Charlotte, The Spectator in Raleigh and the Weekly Planets in both Tampa and Sarasota—have later press runs and were able to get some pretty good stuff in. Neil Skene, our senior vice president for editorial, wrote a thoughtful but passionate 1000-word column that The Spectator and the Planets were able to publish. We’re very fortunate that Neil has a strong background on covering national stories; he’s a former editor and publisher of Congressional Quarterly.

In Atlanta, we ended up putting Neil’s story and Albie’s story (generously offered up by the Nashville Scene) on the Web site. (Ed. note: The Nashville Scene published an interview with founding Publisher Albie Del Favero, who witnessed the WTC attack from a plane above Manhattan.)

Jamie Moses, Artvoice: We did a two-and-half page spread with edited down pieces from about eight different cities and titled it “Terror: Views from the Alternative Press,” with a bold headline for each city. As a composite piece it’s an interesting read.

Pete Sherman, Illinois Times “Illinois Times also changed our cover and feature story at the last minute. We’re a pretty small paper, but managed to write three stories: one encouraging healthy approaches to counseling and conversation about the events; one about where to find out more information, either to help or to learn about loved ones; and one asking that people take a step back and consider the wider and more complicated context under which retaliating violently might not be appropriate or wise (like many weeklies, this was in contrast to our daily that immediately responded with an editorial demanding massive retaliation).

We were originally going to run a cover of a local actor staring in the movie “Rat Race” and had an Alternet feature ready to go about how teenage girls exploit themselves online.

I was encouraged when I logged onto AAN’s Web site to see that so many other weeklies responding similarly. Offering such perspectives as we have might make us pretty lonely people for the next few weeks (at least in our communities).”

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