I received several complaints this week about The Post’s coverage, or lack thereof, of Metro’s Orange Line incident Tuesday night, when a man threw himself in front of a train at the Clarendon station in an apparent attempted suicide.
This was a significant incident that closed at least three Metro stations during rush hour and disrupted the homeward commute of tens of thousands of people. And because escalators went out, or were out, at the Rosslyn station, thousands of passengers, some not in the best of shape, had to endure the steep stair climb up to the surface of one of the system’s most deeply buried stations.
And when passengers got to ground level, they found that Metro shuttle buses were too few and too disorganized to manage the load. A lot of commuters said it was a nightmare, and a scary one, because they thought the incident revealed how poorly prepared Metro is for a mass-casualty attack underground.
Kevin Rupy, a Post subscriber and Orange Line commuter, who walked from downtown D.C. to Clarendon that night because he caught some e-mailed Metro alerts before leaving work, put it this way:
“Please understand, I am not venting about the delays during last night’s commute — my heart goes out to the person who attempted suicide and his family. Rather, I am remarkably disturbed by Metro’s horrible response and The Post’s trivial coverage. I understand Metro cannot be expected to predict the unpredictable (e.g. suicide attempts, equipment malfunctions). However, it is inexcusable that after several such incidents they still do not have a better emergency plan that addresses situations such as last evening’s incident.
“Moreover, the Post’s lack of reporting on this issue was beyond inexcusable. I genuinely expected this story to be covered on the front page, but instead it received a mere two paragraphs in the Metro Section’s ‘Local Digest’ section.
“The angles on this story are manifold,” Rupy continued. “1) the attempted suicide itself and the rescue; 2) Metro’s incompetent response (e.g., offloading passengers onto a packed Rosslyn platform where escalators were out of service); and 3) the fact that despite several such incidents over the last several years Metro still cannot adequately respond to a crisis emergency. While Metro promises single track service and shuttle buses between stations, the fact of the matter is that commuters must either shelter in place or walk to their destination.”
After Post Development and Transportation Editor Michael Bolden and I responded to Rupy with links to The Post’s online and Twitter coverage, he was slightly appeased, but he still thought a brief and photo on Page 3 of the Metro section was inadequate.
But I think it’s important to recount The Post’s online coverage and what that says about how journalists cover breaking events today.
The Post covered the incident in several ways. The Dr. Gridlock blog, according to Bolden, actually became “a living, breathing thing” with continuous updates. “It was updated nonstop from the first report of the incident shortly before 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. I had my fingers on the keys myself.” Bolden was also continuously tweeting and editing throughout that evening — as was Post reporter Dana Hedgpeth, whose tag on Twitter is @postmetrogirl.
If you’re a Twitter follower and a frequent Web site user, or if you had a smartphone with you while making your way home that night, you might have had a pretty fair idea of what happened. But if you are neither of those, or even only one of those, you most likely had too little information too late.
And if you wanted to find out more the next morning about the cause of the Orange Line delays and what Metro plans to do about it — The Post’s natural story — you were out of luck.
On a big event that unfolds rapidly, such as this one did, it’s always hard in the exact moment to judge how many resources an editor should throw at it. But I think The Post newsroom needs to be able to jump on things like this and get reporters to the scene rapidly to do firsthand reporting. It’s that kind of effort that makes a metropolitan newspaper indispensable.