Handful of evenings get Columbia story out

Early Saturday deadlines left many regional evening papers bereft of even a line to mark the tragic end of the Columbia space shuttle.

More and more, evening papers are choosing to print just one edition on Saturdays, circulated early to catch shoppers and without the option of an update, unless a special is printed.

But there were some which got the news out – by internet if not in print.

It was the former for the Manchester Evening News, which was past even its late 1pm facility to print major news stories. Editor Paul Horrocks was waiting for the kick-off of Manchester City’s match when he received a phone call from the paper’s former managing director.

It was 2.40pm and Ian Ashcroft – in Florida touring newspapers in his capacity as chief executive of Guardian Media Group’s regional divisions – was actually at Nasa HQ waiting to see Columbia land. He warned Horrocks: “It’s seven minutes late and the word is there will be a disaster.”

Horrocks immediately phoned the paper where news reporter Seb Ramsay, with online editor Sarah Hartley, got the story on to the paper’s website just past 3pm. Ashcroft later filed a story which was used on page three of the MEN’s Monday edition.

The Birmingham Evening Mail mobilised a team of page planners, many of whom were still in the building waiting to begin shifts on the Sports Argus. Pages one and two were cleared to take the story and a backgrounder put together by a late duty reporter. The finished paper, an extra Late Night Final, was sent to press in less than 40 minutes, selling in the city centre and at late outlets alongside the Argus. An added challenge was a two-page holiday feature on Nasa and the space shuttle which led the Mail’s features section and was hurriedly removed. The result was the best Saturday sales since the death of Princess Margaret.
The Evening Star, Ipswich, was also out with 5,000 copies of a “Shuttle Disaster Special” in newsagents, supermarkets and garages across Suffolk by 4.55pm. The Ipswich press was stripped of green paper – already in place for the Evening Star’s Green Un football edition – and a complete replate of Evening Star pages was undertaken. The front and back-page special included words from political editor Paul Geater, with early CNN grabs of Columbia’s break -up over Texas.
The Pink sports paper, printed at 6pm, saved the day for the South Wales Echo. The last run had been printed and deplated ready for The Pink. With only a skeleton staff, it was down to the duty editor – assistant editor Sandra Loy – and sports staff, already tied up with their own pages, to pull together the copy and design the front page. So Columbia seized the headlines from the Celtic League Cup Final. A few thousand copies were added to The Pink’s run and it had extensive billing throughout the city.
The Bristol Evening Post’s Green Un gave the sports team space to carry four paragraphs and a dramatic picture on the front page plus more pictures and copy on page 35. The team were careful to get the results of the two Bristol club matches on the front as well.

Viewers turn to rolling news channels

Coverage of the disaster increased ratings for all three UK rolling news channels, as the story unfolded on Saturday, writes Wale Azeez.

BBC News 24, Sky News and the ITV News Channel collectively reached more than eight million viewers in total after the story broke at around 2.20pm, according to unofficial overnight figures. The three channels picked up 3.7 per cent of all viewing on the day.

Co-operation with US broadcasters also helped coverage over here. ITV News worked with US partner NBC which had a reporter in the vicinity of the explosion and the wreckage site.

BBC News 24 interviewed British astronaut Piers Sellers and brought in a live feed from Israel, home of one of the astronauts.

By Jean Morgan

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