April 30, 2007

Today's Front Pages Analysis

Commuter consternation in Calif.; big ol’ light bill in Lufkin, Texas

The collapse of a big highway overpass near San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge got a lot of front-page play in California and around the United States today. The Modesto (Calif.) Bee gave most of Page One over to “WHAT A MESS,” a package of stories and photos that laid out the chain of events that led to the disaster. The images were reminiscent of news photos from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, but this time the highway succumbed to a blazing fire started by a gas truck.

The San Francisco Chronicle headlined its coverage “THE MAZE MELTDOWN,” and its design was really striking. The newspaper’s nameplate took a back seat to a huge photo of a raging fire engulfing the overpass. The other key art was a detailed info graphic that explained the “Anatomy of the Collapse” for readers. All of the newspapers gave alternate routes and other information for drivers who might be flummoxed by the loss of the usual route. The San Jose Mercury News didn’t sugarcoat their prospects: “NIGHTMARE AHEAD FOR COMMUTERS.”

Other newspapers saw a chance to twin news stories about the overpass with local highway problems. The Beaver County Times in Pennsylvania topped its front page with “TROUBLED SPANS,” a story about a report that a third of the state’s bridges are “structurally deficient.” But the subhead — “Unsafe? No” — may have left some readers confused about the true scope of the problem.

The Lufkin (Texas) Daily News (motto: “Serving the Texas Forest Country for 100 Years”) had some interesting Page One art today. It was an electric bill from TXU Energy for one Leeland Wayne Temple. The damage: $12,864.51. TXU told Leland he had to pay by May 3, or it would cut off power to his 14- by 60-foot trailer down on Post Oak Road. “They’re crazy. They have lost their minds,” he told the News. After an inquiry by the newspaper, TXU said the bill was the result of an employee error. But Leeland didn’t seem mollified. Under a photograph of him holding the bill, the caption quoted him: “The reason I’m not smiling in that picture is because it’s hard to smile when you get a light bill like this.”

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

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