Stadium Mass attracts media's masses

The reporters showed up even earlier than the faithful, some arriving at Camden Yards as early as 5 a.m.

When the pope comes to town, it's show up early or don't get in.

An estimated 600 to 1,000 journalists -- officials lost count -- started flowing into town on Thursday, setting up mini-offices and computer stations at the papal media center in Columbus Center on Pratt Street.

They came from small religious publications and cable stations, major networks and newspapers, and from the Vatican press corps, an international group of journalists based in Rome.

If the estimate of 1,000 holds, no other event in Baltimore history will have attracted more journalists. When Cal Ripken last month broke baseball's major league record for consecutive games played, 600 reporters received credentials for the big night, although Orioles officials turned away another 200 requests.

Heavy security for the pope meant that some reporters who applied for passes in August still had trouble getting where they wanted to go yesterday. Credentials were lost, or not picked up at the correct location or time.

"It's easier to get into heaven than it is to get through that gate," said Laura Atwell, of Net Political, a 24-hour cable station in Washington, D.C.

She was referring to the gate of Orioles Park at Camden Yards, which she eventually passed through -- after a wait of about an hour.

All visiting reporters received a Baltimore hospitality kit, an 18-inch canvas duffel bag filled with Maryland mementos: a stuffed dolphin from the National Aquarium, a one-pound box of Domino sugar, Oriole cap and a small packet of Old Bay.

A crew from the Enoch Pratt Free Library was waiting at the Columbus Center with computers to assist reporters with research. They expected questions about Maryland church history, but instead wound up helping writers figure out how to send stories from their laptop computers over the phone lines.

Standing apart from it all was the 55-member Vatican press corps, which flew in with the pope. Some calmly smoked cigarettes on a terrace at the media center while local reporters worked furiously against deadlines one story below.

The traveling press corps had an air of having seen it all before. They called the two press buses "Vatican I" and "Vatican II."

"On Vatican II," said a photographer for Catholic News Service, "you can eat meat on Fridays."

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