Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Report on 2nd Missing Girl Underplayed, Some Think

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Report on 2nd Missing Girl Underplayed, Some Think

Article excerpt

A WRONG MESSAGE was sent out Thursday to readers of the late editions of the paper, carrying the first report of the disappearance of Cassidy Senter, 10, from a sidewalk near her home north of Bridgeton just after school.

The story, only three paragraphs long, appeared on Page 4B, the obituary page, not on Page One.

Many readers took that as a clear indication the paper was downplaying her disappearance, which came four days after the abduction and murder of Angie Housman, 9, of St. Ann, not far to the south.

They also got the message that the obituary page had been deliberately chosen, where it appeared alongside an item about the continuing search for Angie's killer.

The unfortunate appearance wasn't intended, editors tell me. The truth is, reporters on hand at the time of Cassidy's disappearance didn't know about it until the last minutes before the 10:30 p.m. deadline.

Why not? The answer, I'm told, is that St. Louis County police wouldn't give out the information to the reporter when he called earlier.

Why the obituary page? At that late hour, all the pages had been assembled and ready for the presses, and the obituary page was still accessible. To have inserted it on Page One would have meant remaking two extra pages minutes before deadline.

More than a dozen readers complained, upset over the "obvious" decision to downplay what they considered far more important news than the other stories on Page One.

I expressed agreement, trying to explain the intricacies of electronic page-making and the necessity of meeting deadlines. That didn't suffice; it was important enough to hold the presses, in their view.

*****

Another problem this week, again involving the Angie Housman case, indicates the kind of close calls editors often have to make about what goes - or doesn't go - into the paper.

Post-Dispatch Photographer Wendi Fitzgerald brought in a heart-wrenching photo she had taken outside Angie's home while the police were still searching for her.

The picture showed her 2-year-old brother leaning against a window pane, staring out forlornly with his forehead resting against his upraised hand. Immediately above his head, posted on the windowpane, was a sign, in a childish scrawl, reading: "Come Home Angie, We Miss You."

The photo showed what everyone saw who walked or drove by the house that day. Fitzgerald shot the picture from the street as she and a reporter were departing.

Family members had just declined to be interviewed or photographed in their home. (They had previously been interviewed for television news.)

The photo sounded an appealing, sad note, eliciting sympathy for the family's plight.

Would you, as the editor in charge, have published it, knowing the family's desire not to be interviewed anymore?

Post-Dispatch editors decided no, considering the family's privacy. …

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