Digging for attention

After the Big Dig tunnel tragedy, the Herald and the Globe put on a full-court press. Who came out on top?
By ADAM REILLY  |  July 19, 2006

PILGRIM'S PRIDE: The Herald pounded on the story from the beginning, publishing close to two dozen articles in the first two days.
A great big plant. That was the main image on the front cover of the Boston Globe on Tuesday, July 11. With the electronic media buzzing about the death of 38-year-old Milena Del Valle inside one of the Big Dig tunnels, the Globe was stuck with a page-one story about a blue agave reaching toward the skies on Beacon Hill.

Contrast that with the Boston Herald, which got an electrifying headline, TUNNEL HORROR, an equally electrifying subhead, “Falling Concrete Slab Kills Woman,” and a photo of the accident scene onto 140,000 of some 240,000 papers printed that day.

The Globe managed to get front-page coverage of the accident onto about 120,000 of its 418,000 papers. But that damn agave never budged.

As the New York dailies were running front covers of the Middle East edging toward war, Boston was enveloped in one of its biggest local stories in recent memory — the tunnel collapse inside the beleaguered $14.6 billion highway project at the heart of Boston’s transportation system.

The Herald — Boston’s self-styled Little Tabloid That Could — got there first, bragging about breaking the news on its Web site hours after the accident, and devoting 15 pages to Del Valle’s death and its aftermath on Wednesday. But while the Globe started slow, it quickly brought its considerable resources to bear on the story. Here’s how the dailies’ Big Dig battle played out.

Tuesday, July 11
Not only does the Herald manage to get an image of the accident scene onto more than half its print run, but it has a better write-up as well. Neither paper publishes the victims’ names Tuesday, but Herald reporters Michele McPhee and O’Ryan Johnson correctly report that the woman traveling in the car’s passenger seat died, while the man driving survived. In contrast, only 30,000 Globe readers actually learn that the accident involved a fatality. (The other 90,000 Globes that report the incident don’t mention the outcome.) There are good technical reasons for these disparities: most important, it’s far trickier to change the front page on a broadsheet with a 418,000-print run than on a tabloid with a much smaller circulation. Still, the Herald makes the Globe look sluggish coming out of the gate.

Wednesday, July 12
Another front-page coup for the Herald: a photo, snapped by a passing motorist using a camera phone, of the vehicle (now identified as belonging to the Del Valles) crushed by concrete in the I-90 connector. Viewed in tandem with a snapshot of Milena Del Valle, which sits just to the right, it’s a devastating image that wrenches the gut. The picture also makes it clear how her husband, Angel, survived: the concrete that would have crushed him is propped up by a wall to the car’s left.

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Related: When Rupert came to Boston, Malign neglect, Bad sports, More more >
  Topics: Talking Politics , Milena Del Valle, Civil Engineering, Engineering,  More more >
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