Bringing the ‘wow’ to the world | SierraSun.com
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Bringing the ‘wow’ to the world

Jim Scripps, Sierra Sun editor

Big-time journalism. That’s the Sierra Sun’s new motto.

Who would’ve thought our little newspaper, from our little town would be in the international limelight, with a story featured on the Today Show, no less. But then again, who can resist an X-ray showing an 18-inch (1 1/2-inch diameter) auger drill bit clear through a man’s skull – and the man living to tell about it.

If you didn’t see the cover of the Aug. 27 Sun, you probably heard about it. I did. I got a blitz of e-mails with subject lines like “Ouch” and “That’s going to leave a mark,” and a handful of phone calls.

One woman called to complain the image was too graphic, that she had to fold the paper in half to read the story without being hit with the photo. While I agree we are a “family” newspaper, and philosophically adhere to an appropriate editorial standard, I respectfully disagree with the caller. The purpose of a photo is to illustrate and tell a story. If that X-ray doesn’t tell the story, I don’t know what does.

Local attention aside, it’s not really our newspaper that has made its way into homes around the globe.

These days, news of the weird spreads fast on the Internet. And I knew when we posted the “Splitting Headache” photo on sierrasun.com we’d get more than our usual couple thousand hits a day.

Well, I was right, but I didn’t know how right I was until we got a report from one of our Web site managers. By noon Thursday, 36 hours after the story and photo was posted to sierrasun.com, we received more than 30,000 visits. Our site was overwhelmed, crashed, and rebooted with additional memory to handle the volume. And the hits kept on coming when I re-posted the photo and story following Friday publication. When the story hit the national news, people came in droves to see the X-ray themselves.

It helped that the story was posted on Fark.com, a popular blog-type Web site with links to interesting stories.

Sure, it is a little salacious. And I will not claim the wow factor didn’t help determine its prominent placement on the page – front and center with a four-column photo – but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t newsworthy. By far, judging from the comments I’ve heard, the drill-bit piece was the most read item of the day.

It’s an amazing story to tell. Ron Hunt, the Truckee construction worker who suffered the injury, is luckier than hell to be alive, and in good spirits considering what happened. Since the accident he’s been to our office, and even gone sightseeing with friends (no pun intended) to Virginia City. He’s been on TV, and even says he’s ready to get back to work.

With the deluge of Web site hits, there have been some questions about the legitimacy of the X-ray, although the amount of exposure the story has received has put some of that to rest.

At first blush, I also apprehended to believe it could be real.

The scale of the drill bit to the skull is hard to wrap your mind around (again, no pun intended). And some skeptics – many who claim to be experts in Photoshop – think it is a forgery. It’s not.

We “digitized” the X-ray on a flatbed scanner, but otherwise did not manipulate it. We were also provided with photographic proof of the accident – the actual photo of the actual drill bit through Hunt’s eye. It helps that a source close to Hunt, who was involved in the story, is my good friend’s mother.

On another front, some have questioned how we received permission from the hospital to run the X-ray, considering new disclosure laws that require a patient’s consent. It’s simple: It’s not up to the hospital. We got the X-ray from the victim, who has every right to release it to us.

While we do have a copyright on our version of the X-ray (a note to all the Web warriors who have ripped it off), we have a verbal agreement not to distribute this particular image to media outlets outside our company, although quite a few have requested it. Hunt has already chosen to release the X-ray to others, and he may sell it on Ebay or write a book. Who knows? That’s up to him. We are just thankful he let us use it here, to share his story with our little corner of the universe.

Big-time journalism? You better believe it. And the next time someone is impaled through the eye with an 18-inch auger drill bit, you have our guarantee, we’ll be all over it (pun intended).

Jim Scripps is editor of the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at editor@sierrasun.com.


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