There is no one correct way to write a news story, other than to tell the truth of what you’ve observed and gathered. Reporting is more an art than a science, and that was clear earlier today in how The New York Times and The Washington Post differed in their descriptions of Pope John Paul II’s funeral in St. Peter’s Square.
Both papers referred to the astonishing moment at funeral’s end when the assembled mourners applauded and shouted their farewells. The Times kept that moment at the top of its story, but made it sound like a polite ovation:
Applause rang out from a huge crowd this morning at the end of the funeral of John Paul II, the little-known Polish cardinal chosen as pope in 1978.
After a Mass that lasted about two-and-a-half hours, his plain cypress coffin marked with a cross and an “M” for the Virgin Mary was brought out of St. Peter’s Basilica and placed before an altar in St. Peter’s Square. The book of the Gospel was placed on the coffin and a breeze riffled the pages throughout the service.
The bells of St. Peter’s tolled and 12 pallbearers with white gloves, white ties and tails then carried the coffin on their shoulders back inside for burial, after holding the coffin to face the multitude for a prolonged moment, as the great bell of St. Peter’s pealed, and waves of applause swept through the audience.
The pallbearers finally turned again and entered the church, as the crowd held on, mesmerized. The bell tolled on and on, and at last people chatted with their neighbors and began to move away, many of them weeping.
(The Times has since downplayed these graphs in the revised and expanded story at the same link.)
The Post broke up the narrative a bit with background details about the funeral and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily, but better captured the explosive emotions on the square. First the lede:
Under a clear Vatican sky, thousands of exuberant mourners, chanting “santo, santo, santo,” or saint, gathered in the shadow of the Basilica of St. Peter Friday and bid farewell to Pope John Paul II.
Then, after six brisk graphs of background, the heart of the drama:
The funeral began at 10 a.m. local time (4 a.m. EDT). Two hours and 40 minutes later, the cardinals filed back into the basilica.
The pallbearers, in turn, lifted the cypress coffin, hoisted it on their shoulders and rotated the box to show it one more time to the crowd, which roared its appreciation.
It was a curtain call. Tears flowed down from thousands of faces.
Bishops on the steps waved goodbye as the coffin then disappeared within the doors and the big bell on a tower to the left of the basilica tolled somberly, joined immediately by the rest of Rome’s church bells.
Ten minutes after the coffin had disappeared, the crowd was still applauding. Then, as the dignitaries along the steps retired into the basilica to be escorted out into Rome, the crowd began to stream across Tiber River bridges away from the square. They seemed to be keeping pace with the slow tolling of the bells as they shuffled away.
If you missed TV coverage of these last glimpses of the pope’s coffin, or the entire funeral, the Post provides an impressive variety of links on this page.