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- Daily Chronicle : DeKalb County Life
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The Daily Chronicle newsroom in crisis mode
By Barry Schrader.................................February
was 3 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008, and the Daily Chronicle
news operation had wound down for the day; most of the staff
either out on assignment or headed home. But what happened that
day and hour will remain seared into the memories of everyone
connected with the Chronicle, and I assume many others in the
DeKalb area and on the Northern Illinois University campus, for
the rest of their lives.
I wasnt there to witness the tension and emotion that ran
so high that day, but two weeks later decided there should be
a permanent record of the tragic events, so asked the staff if
I could interview each of them on video as an oral history project.
Some of them were in their first jobs as professional journalists,
about the same age as the older students at NIU.
It was a very emotional and shocking experience for everyone
involved, whether inside that newsroom or out at the campus where
the shootings took place. I wanted to capture the feelings and
reactions of those closest to the events as things unfolded.
The tapes will be turned over to the NIU archives and Joiner
History Room where they can be perused by future journalists
Now, as I replay those interviews and recall those horrendous
hours and days, I realized that nearly half of those news people
interviewed have either left DeKalb for other jobs or changed
careers. I wonder how much the impact of that day had on their
decisions to move on.
One of the most succinct statements was given to me in writing
by then Chronicle production superintendent, Bruce Bieritz, a
29-year newspaper veteran, who recalled it this way:
Anyone in the newspaper business lives for days like today
(Feb. 14). While being tragic in nature, the events of today
are in itself exhilarating in nature from a news standpoint ...
To be sitting in the editorial area when this tragic event unfolded
was one of the most impressive things I have ever seen.
Reporters being quickly dispatched out to cover the story.
The editor standing up in the middle of the newsroom asking for
help from (anyone in all departments) typing to answering the
phones. Everyones response was tremendous.
Within the next couple of hours, we had planned out an
early press run for the Friday paper with a midnight start. Reporters
started coming back in to get the stories written and then heading
back out again. Anyone who was in the building was volunteering
for anything they could do.
Like a general in battle, Jim (former editor Jim Bowey
now in Minnesota teaching college students) led his troops,
barking out instructions to keep everyone moving to a common
goal. Calling meetings at 6 (p.m.) to keep everyone updated on
deadlines of the day and again at 7 to thank the troops for their
efforts and offer some comfort for those who had seen some emotional
things in the coverage of such a tragic story ...
My interviews included seven of the news staffers most closely
involved in handling the crisis coverage. Two others found it
too emotional to talk about and declined interviews. I can sympathize
with them. But those who did talk were Bowey, city editor Kate
Schott, news editor Inger Koch, photographers Eric Sumberg and
Kate Weber, reporters Dana Herra (now assistant city editor),
Carrie Frillman and Benji Feldheim.
As it happened, the first reports came via the police scanner
a staple in newsrooms across the country.
Reporter Benji Feldheim recalled that they first realized something
serious had happened when the word shotgun jumped
out at them from the scanner chatter, then shooting at
NIU, followed by a jumble of other messages that had him
grabbing for his notebook and small recorder as the editors dispatched
him to campus.
By a stroke of luck for the newspaper, one of the staff photographers,
Eric Sumberg, was already at NIU in the Campus Recreation Center
on assignment. Reached on his cell phone, he went running down
toward the center of campus with his camera gear, ignoring his
car parked nearby. Reporter Dana Herra was driving down Normal
Road heading home at the end of her work day when she was reached
by cell phone and immediately headed the car toward campus, parked
and began walking toward the Holmes Student Center.
Meanwhile, in Sycamore, photographer Kate Weber was just finishing
a photo assignment and got the call to head to NIU. And reporter
Carrie Frillman had just wrapped up an interview at the Grand
Victorian when she got the call then driving as fast as
allowed to reach the campus, but not realizing what lie ahead.
Reactions as they got nearer Cole Hall and saw the horror, blood
and chaotic atmosphere:
Eric Sumberg: Got to the west side of Cole Hall and
began talking to students about what had happened. Were bringing
victims out of Cole every three or four minutes didnt
know whether they were alive or dead. I knew every picture was
going to count so I took as many as I could. I saw this boy praying
and crying outside and took 20 or 30 frames, then talked to him.
(That was the photo used on front cover of the Friday special
morning edition and went around the country and world on The
Associated Press wire service and was used in many papers.) At
the Sunday night memorial service, I saw Barack Obama there ...
he sat in back on the stage and did not speak, but stayed afterwards
to talk with families of the victims.
I thought my biggest story in DeKalb would be the monster
truck accident, until now. This will probably be the biggest
story I will cover even if I stay in the field 20 more years.
Kate Weber: Parked and went to Neptune Hall, saw Benji
who told me there were students being treated down the hall.
One student had blood coming from his head and two others were
holding a towel on him and comforting him. I took 250 shots on
the first disk and maybe another 250 at the press conference
later that day. Also, another 250 at the vigil at a nearby church
that night. It was really hard for me because these kids were
my age. Dealing with the national media horde was a new experience
for me; I felt anger at the national media for their heartless
Dana Herra: Parked near campus and walked toward Holmes
Student Center. Saw stretchers coming out of Cole and blood on
the sidewalk. Bridge to Cole full of police and paramedics. Saw
student inside Holmes Center who was shot in the leg, another
being loaded into a command vehicle who had been shot in the
head. That really threw me and that image stayed with me a long
while. (NIU) President Peters did very well. He came out very
quickly, was very sympathetic, went to the hospital to be with
victims and families, and must have stayed up all night.
Carrie Frillman: When I got to campus, I had no idea
how extreme it was ... Noticed the blood on the sidewalk. Saw
a group of about 50 students gathered outside the police tape
and a large number trying to use their cell phones. Then I saw
the stretchers coming through. Some of the injured had fled to
other buildings. Had an all-access floor pass at the memorial
service Sunday but was told we could not interview people inside
before or during the ceremony and none of the family members,
so I just observed. Met up with Barack Obama and Gov. Blagovich
but didnt think it appropriate to get quotes ... wanted
to let them interact with the families.
Back at the office, the remaining editors had their hands
Inger Koch: My primary responsibility at first became
updating the Chronicle Web page and monitoring the NIU Web for
the latest news. Phyllis Johnson shuttled some photo files and
video footage back to the office. My job as news editor is designing
the main pages, so I designed the front pages the next three
days, using big art and big headlines to convey the news of the
day. Could only describe the newsroom as chaotic that first night,
but other departments staffers chipped in to help. I did
the front page on 9/11, the biggest story I ever worked on before
Kate Schott: Eric was on campus. It was ironic we had
someone right there. We got three reporters and two photographers
onto the campus as soon as possible. I had been at work since
6:30 a.m. and stayed until 12:30 a.m. (Friday morning). We intentionally
played down the shooter and placed the story on his identity
the following day inside instead of on page one. (Kate is writing
a column about the shooting for the Feb. 14 Chronicle.)
Jim Bowey: After sending out the reporters, my instinct
was to call my wife and get my camera gear over here. But by
the time she arrived, I realized my role was as editor now (not
as a former freelance photographer) and I stayed in the newsroom.
This newsroom will probably never have a story of this intricacy
again. This (the campus and community) was a journalism war zone
all night with (news) helicopters circling overhead. In the first
couple of days, we passed the number of a thousand photos taken.
This (news teams effort) was purpose driven; we wanted
to help the community and not just cover the story. There was
a lot of blood, sweat and tears behind the stories and type on
those pages. My sense is it will always remain a mystery
why a person would do this.
Benji Feldheim: "When I got to there I found people
around campus didn't know what had happened and others didn't
believe it. I went inside Neptune and saw a kid with his head
bandaged and bleeding. Then I heard a girl crying. Once back
outside I saw the blood on my shoes from where I had been walking
in Neptune... (Seeing the behavior of the major media) I saw
two facial expressions from the students--there was fright and
then there was disgust with the disrespectful and ugly displays
of the media. At the Sunday memorial service a grad student pointed
out it was good to see the curtain fall between town and gown.
We must have put together 50 to 70 stories over a two week period
(on the shootings). It's an experience I never ever want to go
Those were some snippets from the more than three hours of
oral history interviews preserved on tape and will probably be
used for years to come as each anniversary rolls around and the
facts of the tragedy are once again brought up in memorial and
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DeKalb, Ill 60115