More Messages: "Crossing" Purposes

To put it mildly, "The Crossing," an ongoing Rocky Mountain News project penned by reporter Kevin Vaughan (pictured) is a mammoth undertaking. The story of a horrific 1961 train/schoolbus accident that killed twenty children, the series is scheduled to run in 33 parts, with the first appearing on January 23 in the debut issue of the Rocky's smaller-size redesign.

This epic is meant to demonstrate that the tabloid's ambition remains large even though the page size has undergone significant shrinkage, and it does so. Yet there are certainly some quizzical aspects about it. Although the paper's new dimensions are meant to appeal to younger readers who aren't subscribing to daily newspapers in the numbers they once did, the tale hardly smacks of youth appeal. Moreover, the decision to slice it up into so many chunks harms its overall effectiveness. The paper essentially acknowledged that in its Saturday, January 27, edition, when the fifth chapter appeared alongside four predecessors that had been printed in previous days. Hard to miss the irony of that move. To highlight the redesign, which was instituted to save paper, the Rocky used two full pages of valuable newsprint on articles it had already published.

More fundamentally, the "Crossing" sections to date haven't zeroed in on the most interesting reason for revisiting such an incident -- the ripple effects on those left behind. Media coverage of calamities tend to follow detailed reportage about the event itself with a rush to declare that the healing has begun -- but anyone who's undergone loss knows that the process is far more complicated than that, and a lot less finite. Simply put, tragedies leave scars that never go away no matter how much we wish they would. In an October 2006 interview with Westword documented in a wide-ranging blog, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford put it this way:

You don't get restored to what you are. It's a truism to say that, because something would have happened afterward. If you took your pulse and then lived another two years and then took your pulse again, and it was different, something would have happened to alter your pulse. Grief like that does not leave you as you were... Things change. Things that happened have consequence. Your life, its meaning is at least assessible in terms of behavior and the things that have happened in your life. You can't just say, as Americans are wont to do, "I'm going back to work. Everything's better. The stock market opened. The Superdome's open." That's not how life works.

The sixth chapter of "The Crossing," published today, suggests that Vaughan, who's a strong writer, is about to tackle such topics, and that's a good thing. Still, the narrative is likely to be more effective when read from start to finish, like Jim Sheeler's Pulitzer-winning "Final Salute," rather than in piecemeal fashion.

Until we know if that's the case, folks at the Rocky had better prepare themselves for insults of the sort Denver Post business columnist Al Lewis hurled in a January 24 blog submission. After taking a shot or two at what he referred to as "the Rocky Munchkin News," Lewis wrote, "Maybe they should reduce it down further to the size of a paperback book and write about things that happened 45 years ago."

If they do so, the tab will be going forward into the past. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts