Media witness gets a reprieve - for now

By now, Karin Grunden was supposed to have witnessed her first execution. The police-and-court reporter for the Terre Haute Tribune-Star was one of 10 members of the media expected to watch convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh die in the nearby federal prison yesterday.

In Terre Haute, home of the only facility that handles federal death row inmates, reporters are used to executions being delayed -two have been postponed since last October. Ms. Grunden was also on deck to attend those, representing her paper as one of the local media that must be invited as a media witness. Based on the previous situations, she had some doubts about the McVeigh execution actually occurring on May 16, but she thought it had a better chance than most of being carried out.

Long before the FBI discovery last week that there were thousands of documents Mr. McVeigh's attorneys had never seen, she had been preparing for her trip to the death chamber. Technically, she explains, you don't become a media witness until three hours before the execution.

But she had signed an agreement ahead of time -no drugs, alcohol, video or audio recording devices could accompany her into the prison. And she understood that she would be searched. She could bring in the clothes on her back, but she would be asked to defy the instincts of most in her profession and not carry anything to write with or on. "They provide paper and pen. You could not bring that into the room," she says.

She had also researched other witnesses' experiences, and she thought about her own position on the death penalty. She gave interviews like this one to national and international journalists, all wanting a glimpse of the life of a reporter about to be privy to information that more than 1,600 media representatives had been credentialed to come to town and gather. She was asked how she came to be a witness, and her position on the death penalty (she's on the fence).

In between calls from the BBC and The New Yorker, she was writing stories, along with others at the paper, about McVeigh and the execution, some that were set to run in the days preceding the event.

When she got the news about the FBI's mistake, she was shocked. "It's just very suspicious," she says of the timing. But she says she had another emotion, too -relief. Now she can return to her familiar haunts, like the courthouse and her own house,and she can do her job without being followed by camera crews. More important, she says, "I didn't have to watch someone die this week."

Black newspapers gain access to the Web

African-American newspapers are getting help going online, thanks to a three-year initiative by the National Newspaper Publishers Association and an initial contribution of $125,000 from the United Parcel Service. The NNPA, a 60-year-old group representing some 200 black papers, announced last week that it will help set up websites for members who are not currently online (only about 10 percent are). It has been working on increasing the Web presence of black media, having launched an online news digest, BlackPressUSA.com, last summer. Ten new websites are expected to be set up in the next few weeks, a total of 50 by the end of the summer.

Magazine editors, not mechanical engineers

Last week, this column included a website for the National Magazine Award winners, presented by the American Society of Magazine Editors. As some readers discovered, www.asme.org offers plenty about the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, but little about the awards. The correct site is www.asme.magazine.org.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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