Tonawanda News

April 17, 2013

DUVALL: Finding the stories that bring you there

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Reporters are strange animals. We don’t process the news the same way normal people do. 

When the initial news broke of the Boston Marathon bombing my first response wasn’t shock or sadness. It was to cancel my plans for a day off — buy a new TV and set up the new entertainment center. Minutes after flipping on CNN it was clear I had to get to the newsroom.

I’m not quite sure where Monday’s tragedy in Boston ranks on the list of breaking stories we’ve covered in my tenure here. Only someone as ghoulish as a journalist would make such a list. 

Whether it be breaking news of the happy or sad variety, reporters live for the adrenaline rush of a big story. Monday was all of that and then some.

I should take a moment to recognize the outstanding work several of my colleagues here and at our sister papers in Lockport and Niagara Falls did. My name was on the byline but that only means I tied together their top notch reporting in the hours after the bombs went off on Boylston Street.

Here at the News, Jessica Bagley and Michael Regan combed through the list of 27,000 runners with editors Neale Gulley and Danielle Haynes. By the time I walked in the door they had already identified several Tonawandans who were in Boston for the race. In a matter of minutes, literally, they had worked up full dossiers on the runners: Names, ages, addresses, phone numbers, social media contacts, relatives. (It’s a wonder what you can do in the Internet age.)

We weren’t actually able to contact any of the runners personally, which was frustrating. But we were able to confirm none were among the injured, which was important.

And as sometimes happens on these fishing expeditions, a fish we weren’t looking for jumped in the boat. Former News copy editor Amy Wallace called us to tell the incredible story of being on the phone with Vice President Joe Biden when a terrorist attack occurred, offering a haunting account of how news breaks in the corridors of power. (For the record, vice presidents find out more or less the same way the rest of us do — by someone turning on the television.)

In Lockport, sports editor John D’Onofrio recalled a feature story written about a long distance runner several months back and gave the guy a ring. As it turns out, the man John talked to was supposed to go to the marathon but withdrew because of a bad back.

That Lockport resident, John Reardon, had the bizarre experience of watching on television what could have been a terrible tragedy for him and his family. His average marathon time is almost exactly the same as when the bombs went off. 

It was another compelling take on the tragedy from a different angle than most — the man who cheats death, who doesn’t board the ill-fated flight.

Finally, my colleague Rick Pfeiffer at the Gazette tracked down a runner from Youngstown who was three miles from the finish line when he was told to stop running the race of a lifetime. His heartache at failing to finish — and for those who were injured and killed — was palpable. 

I’m sure over the next few days I’ll come to terms with the enormity of the tragedy. There is much heartache when a great American city’s great tribute to athletic prowess and personal determination is hijacked, turned into a scene of bloody chaos. 

It’s an odd place to be: Thankful something like that didn’t happen here, but determined to find the stories large and small that bring you, the readers, there.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com.