IDS coverage (or lack thereof) of the Boston Marathon

In IDS on April 16, 2013 at 7:26 pm

One of my most rewarding moments as an IDS reporter was on the morning of May 2, 2011. Without relying on wire content, the management staff at the time and I had stayed up late to get stories that nobody else in the country had.

We localized the death of Osama bin Laden and were the only ones in town to do so.

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May 2, 2011

The morning that paper hit stands, we got word from a senior citizen in Bloomington, someone who had gone to bed before the news broke late Sunday night. When she awoke, we were the only ones to have a full story, big, above the fold, in a situation that really deserved it.

We reported the news.

Now compare that to what people saw on stands today.

April 16, 2013

April 16, 2013

So how did the IDS seem to play down the biggest terrorist attack on American soil in over a decade?

It’s easy to point the finger here to the fact that we don’t use AP anymore. It’s tough to go out and get the coverage we need and readers deserve without a wire service. But that didn’t stop us after deadline on May 1, 2011.


Nov. 7, 2012

It sure didn’t stop us on Nov. 6, 2012, either. We had months to plan, but we had a team of reporters and photographers around the region, from Columbus, Ohio, to Chicago, Ill., to Indianapolis and all around Bloomington. We ended up with a 100 percent exclusive newspaper, full of original content, which famed reporter and editor Bob Hammel described as “the best next-day AM election edition I have ever seen, at any level.”


Sept. 12, 2001

And more importantly, it didn’t stop the IDS staff on Sept. 11, 2001. That paper was recognized by the Society for News Design as one of the best designed papers, at any level, from that day. Granted, we had AP for the big, dramatic photos and stories in a four-page special section, but if you open this paper, you find that this is anything but an wire-reliant special edition.

Inside that paper are IDS stories and photos from around campus as well as the city and state localizing the tragedy. Even the sports, arts and Weekend sections had information relating to the terrorist attacks. It was a full-team effort to fill the paper with relevant information, just like we did this past fall with the election.

It is also not the case that coverage of the Boston Marathon attacks was either non-existent or impossible. When I first came into the newsroom after hearing the news, reporters had already looked up how many Hoosiers and Bloomingtonians were running in the race and reaching out to them. Michael Majchrowicz wrote a story about IU students who witnessed the panic after the bombs went off.


IU senior Patrick Mazzocco was 20 floors above the finish line, safely in his Sheraton Boston Hotel room with his parents and sister, when he felt “the deepness” of the first blast. And then the second.

It was like a cannon, he said, or even thunder.

“I was pretty sure it was race-related,” Mazzocco said. “I thought they were signifying the race was over.”

Peering out the window, it was clear to Patrick and his family that something wasn’t right. The family stood and watched as chaos ensued throughout Boylston Street and Massachusetts Avenue. White smoke filled the air, and people ran in every direction.

About 45 minutes prior to the blasts, Patrick’s sister, Lisa, 25, had completed the marathon, finishing just before the 3-hour, 30-minute mark.

Mazzocco, 22, had been observing the race near the location of the blasts less than an hour before they were detonated.

Upon Lisa’s finish, the family went about their afternoon, posing for family photos and deliberating where they would eat. After the family saw the commotion, their attention focused on what to do next.

According to the official race registry, there were 283 Indiana residents scheduled to run the race, nine of whom hailed from Bloomington.

Not included on the list is IU School of Medicine student Andrew Walker. Walker finished the race about two hours before the first boom shook the area. He communicated via text message that he was safe.

Ryan Piurek, director of news and media for IU Communications, confirmed three of the nine individuals listed from Bloomington have connections to IU. Among the confirmed individuals are Ethan Michelson, associate professor of sociology and law; Chris Muir, a graduate student studying evolutionary biology, and Rachel Noirot, a registered dietitian with Residential Programs and Services.

But why did we stop there? We had visuals available. They weren’t the best, but MCT Campus photos ran on the jumps page. Why didn’t we keep pushing with other stories to explore every possible IU-related angle possible? For example…

  • What do our local representatives have to say?
  • What can students and community members do to help the victims? (Blood donations, Red Cross volunteering, etc.)
  • Are there any ceremonies and/or fundraisers happening in town in the next few days?
  • We talked to folks who were visiting for the marathon, what about IU students from Boston?
  • How did people find out about the attacks on campus? I know there were some classes in the School of Journalism that stopped teaching and turned on the news. Was that common?
  • What will this attack mean for security at sporting events in Bloomington, specifically the Little 500 races this weekend?

I don’t want to sound too accusatory here, either. The staff has a lot of things to consider in situations like this and they did the best they could.

But it raises the question of how far do we go for national news? Especially without a full on-the-ground story or compelling visuals that others have. I hope we have a rainy-day fund to splurge on an AP photograph or a wire story to build off of, but I can’t be certain.


Ball State Daily News — April 16, 2013

And if you want a student example, look no further than our good friends in Muncie. The Ball State Daily News took the story and devoted the whole front page to it, complete with inside stories from Indianapolis, commentary on the opinion pages and a localization from an alumnus in Boston.

The editor-in-chief, Andrew Mishler, wrote a letter from the editor alongside their continued inside coverage.


The Ball State Daily News decided to run coverage of the Boston bombings on the entire front page for a reason. We want to respect the tragedy in Boston by giving it ­— and you, the readers — the coverage it deserves…

The first step toward responding is to be informed. For most, that likely started by watching the news Monday and reading coverage online, and it continues today by reading this edition of the Daily News.

The paper today not only reflects the significance of the bombings in Boston, but what we believe to be important for our readers to know.

We don’t want you to just be informed. We want you to remember why it’s important to be informed.

We got beat today, folks.

I’ve already talked to some people in the newsroom and I know this is going to generate a lot of different opinions. I want to start a conversation about it. Comment below and let’s talk about today’s paper.


UPDATE: To see more about how student newspapers covered the attacks, see this good post on College Media Matters.

  1. This is a comment sent to me from a recent alumn, now in New York City:

    “After checking that my family was ok, my first thought was what this would mean for Indiana– Little 5 and The Indianapolis 500. That’s what I wanted to know and still don’t know. I went to IDS.com expecting to see amazing, localized coverage and was surprised (and sad) when I didn’t see it. I had to look twice to even see the Boston headline.

    In New York, police presence visibly increased, subways were shut down and helicopters made constant sweeps over Midtown. The lack of coverage in the IDS made me wonder if it was just the East Coast that cared– that maybe the explosions weren’t as big a deal as I thought. But as facts and names have emerged, I can’t help but think that the IDS failed. They failed to make their target audience realize that this is a big deal. That government leaders around the country were nervous. That people should always be on the look out for something suspicious. That this affects YOU. If newspapers are going to survive– and even more importantly, thrive– in the modern age, reporters need to show readers, need to tell readers, why they should care. More empathy in society can only make the world better.”

  2. If you’re expecting to get amazing localized coverage on the Boston Marathon bombings by visiting a website that makes custom IDs, of course you’re going to be disappointed.

    In all seriousness, I’m with you. This was definitely not played up enough or given adequate coverage by the IDS.

    BUT, it’s hard comparing it to any previous breaking or national news the IDS has covered. The paper doesn’t have AP like on 9/11. It didn’t have people celebrating and shooting off fireworks locally like when Bid Laden was killed. The staff didn’t have the months of planning that went into the election coverage.

    Like you said, it raises questions as to how a student paper approaches these kinds of stories when budgets (and coverage areas) are shrinking so much. The one story Michael wrote is tagged as a region story, because the IDS doesn’t even really have a place to put national stories on the site anymore. It leaves a certain grey area when it comes to how student journalists or even local small town papers in general are supposed to cover an event like this.

    “In New York, police presence visibly increased, subways were shut down and helicopters made constant sweeps over Midtown. The lack of coverage in the IDS made me wonder if it was just the East Coast that cared,” the alum writes. None of that was happening in Bloomington; would that make you wonder if the Bloomington officials cared as well?

    I’m curious what the IDS’s coverage of Sandy Hook would have looked like if it weren’t for the timing of winter break, as I think that is the easiest national breaking news event to really compare this too.

    Here was a national tragedy that did not involve bombs, but it was still an attack in which 26 people died. It was without a doubt, a national tragedy and the aftermath is still front page news today. Locally, it’s led to Indiana proposing a bill that would mandate armed guards in the state’s schools. Yet, even now, the IDS search only shows five news articles even containing the phrase Sandy Hook since December.

    Lacking access to national wire stories is not the only thing apparently stopping student journalists from carrying out the duties expected from professional reporters.

    Winter break also seems to get in the way.

  3. First, I take issue with you holding up Ball State’s paper as a good example. While the coverage might have been good (I didn’t read it), that art head was a horrible idea. In my opinion, it’s overblown and insensitive. I ran it by an admittedly small group of people this morning, and no one had a positive reaction to it.

    Also, 9/11 and Bin Laden are not good comparisons. 9/11 killed around 3,000 people and has had long-lasting impact on the U.S. Bin Laden’s death was a sort of closure to 9/11, the biggest news story of the decade. While the Boston bombings terrorized many and are certainly a tragedy, it was on a much smaller scale than 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombings. They killed 3 people, and while any deaths are sad, it is not even close to the amount of turmoil and tragedy 9/11 caused.

    All of that being said, I do agree that the IDS should have had (or should have soon) a story about how this affects Little 500 and the Indy 500. Since those famed sporting events are right in our backyard, that’s a great story to pursue.

  4. “We got beat today, folks” ? No, this was a failure of news judgement. The story was there to be embraced and expanded upon and written large in big headlines with bold graphics, stunning photography and gripping writing. Journalists fight hard to find a piece of an event like this that they can make theirs – what stories can they tell, what angles can they pursue that will tell their readers something unique? Photographers look for the local shot that tells the story. Page designers recognize the opportunity to showcase their skills.

    They do this because its the biggest story of the year or maybe the decade. It’s a benchmark moment – and the newspapers recording it get saved because they told about something important that people want to remember.

    The IDS has done in this in the past. The examples provided in this blog are excellent, and they are part of a proud tradition the Indiana Daily Student has of going toe-to-toe with other news organizations and more than holding its own. It’s been that way for decades. Go back and look at the paper’s coverage of VE and VJ days. Look at how the IDS reported the Kennedy assassination, the shooting of Reagan, the Challenger explosion and Desert Storm. The newspaper that produced great election coverage a few months ago could have knocked the doors off in its coverage of the Boston attacks. This week, your readers deserved much better than they got.

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