April 18, 2007

Today's Front Pages Analysis

The day after: Editors try to make sense out of senselessness

The aftermath of the mass killing of 32 students at Virginia Tech continued to dominate U.S. dailies today, and editors struggled to answer readers who wanted to know “why.”

Many led with new details about the shooter, Tech student Cho Seung-Hui. Headlines were littered with words like “troubled” and “loner” to describe him. Quotes from Cho’s writings proved chilling but irresistible choices for some headline writers: “I’M GOING TO KILL,” The Denver Post; “You caused me to do this,” Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel; “im going to kill people at vtech today,” St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer-Press.

Most front pages balanced out such stories with coverage of a memorial service in Blacksburg, attended by thousands of students and faculty as well as President Bush. The San Diego Union-Tribune’s “A Campus in Anguish” was an oft-found approach. Virginia newspapers in particular focused on the Tech community and the effect of the tragedy on the commonwealth: “We’re all Hokies,” The News & Advance, Lynchburg.

Elsewhere, some editors’ leads were determined by the Tech students’ hometowns. “Massacre hits home,” said the Chicago Sun-Times. Others began to analyze possible causes of the crime and tried to sort out why it hadn’t been prevented: “Red flags spotted too late,” Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald; “Are guns the problem?”, The Forum, N.D. The Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times built its front page around an easily understood conceit: “HERO AND VILLAIN: Math teacher Liviu Librescu gave his life to save his students from gunman Cho Seung-Hui.”

But a couple of Page Ones simply embraced the notion that perhaps we can never really know the “why” behind such an act. “TRAGEDY DEFIES COMPREHENSION,” said The State, Columbia, S.C.

The standout front-page design was from The Virginian-Pilot. No headlines. No photos. No stories. Only a memorial ribbon, in Tech colors, and the long list of the names of the dead.

Christy Mumford Jerding is the editorial director of the Freedom Forum.

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