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Paginating in the dark

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by mpcincal, Jan 5, 2008.

  1. mpcincal

    mpcincal Well-Known Member

    Oh, man what a Friday night. On the West Coast, I'm on the news desk, working to get the Saturday paper out. Of course, the storm is the big story, blanketing our area with plenty of rain. When the weather deviates from the usual mild, sunny type, it's always a big deal with our paper, as the editor loves the weather stories. Also, we have the just-established trend of getting the paper done earlier to give our carriers a little more time to get the issues delivered in the rain.

    Little did I know, how much the storm would really affect us ...

    About 7:25 p.m. the lights flicker as I'm getting my front page into form. I go for the save function as I always do, but before I can do that, POOF, everything's black. Nothing works except emergency lights we had installed at strategic points of the building. I asked the ME, who was still there, about an emergency generator and he said, I kid you not, that we had one in the back of the building somewhere but it was stolen. I thought I was in the middle of that MASH episode when Radar was on RnR and Klinger, who was taking over as company clerk, found the generator in the shed missing.

    Anyway, contigency plans were made, utility company was contacted and told the ME they couldn't promise power back on before midnight. Operations supervisor had a generator at home and one of the staff members with an SUV drove him there to pick it up with some extension cords. ASE went home and got a few extension cords of his own.

    Op head got back with the generator, putting it right outside the door, and bringing in extension cords to hook up about three computers, and we got cracking on the rest of the paper. Fortunately, because we had come in early to try and get the earlier deadline, I had gotten a jump start and had half my pages already in the can. Me and my deskmate, worked with what we had (having already requested most of our photos and stuff before the outage), and I had my front and jump almost done when, POOF, lights are back on at about 11:15, nearly four hours later, but beating the utility company's estimate. I got my pages done and was able to send them to the back and go home, while my supervisor, who was working the desk stayed and waited for the press.

    Quite a night, and I was pretty impressed with the staff as a whole -- no one panicked or bitched too much, and we were able to come up with a pretty creative plan. The paper won't look as good as it could have (especially sports, who had to get in prep stories written by flashlight and will be missing a lot of stuff), but we got a good story we can tell all our future co-workers and aspiring journalists.

    Anybody else have good newsroom blackout stories?
  2. fishwrapper

    fishwrapper Active Member

    Good newspapering.
  3. David Panian

    David Panian New Member

    I'm impressed you had a generator. There have been times I've wished we had one where I work.

    The best power outage story I have was from a snow and ice storm in 2002. It started on Jan. 31, a Thursday. The power went out while that afternoon's paper was being put together in the morning. It didn't come back on until Saturday.

    We eventually set up two off-site offices. Our editor — Chris Iott, an occassional poster here — and production folks packed up some computers and set them up in the basement of Chris' house. His part of town had power. One of our reporters volunteered her apartment — she had electricity, too — as a newsroom, so some of us set up there, me with my PowerBook, she with her desktop computer. We would write stories there, then e-mail them to the editor's house.

    To get AP stories, our sports editor — who lived across the street from Chris' house — would pull them off YourAP and e-mail them to Chris' house. All of the e-mailing and Web stuff was done through dial-up connections. Once the pages were laid out, a composing person did their thing, then the pages were e-mailed to a sister paper three counties away. The pages were printed there, then trucked back. It's ordinarily about a 2-hour drive; I'm sure it took longer in the post-storm conditions. Our publisher and circulation director helped unload the papers from the delivery truck and distribute them to carriers.

    We did that twice, putting out two, two-day editions, Thursday-Friday and Saturday-Sunday.

    Meanwhile, power to my apartment had gone out, so instead of sleeping in the cold I spent Thursday night at my town's fire station, listening to the numerous calls about trees and power lines down and transformer fires.

    Consumers Energy got the power turned on at my place on Friday, but the paper might've been the last business to get power restored. Apparently the main line in our part of town went through a heavily wooded area, so it was difficult to repair.

    Maybe the best part about the storm was the timing. That first day could have been Chris' last day at the Telegram. Instead, he'd given four weeks' notice before moving to Jackson to be sports editor there. So he — and his basement — got to be part of that unusual experience.

    It was really cool to see all of it come together, but it's not something I ever want to have to do again.
  4. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    The day after Katrina hit in 2005, all of the power pretty much everywhere around here was out. We had a generator, but had to send some staffers out to get gas for it. Since everything in town didn't have power -- including gas stations -- that meant they had to drive across the river to get it, then wait in line for a couple hours because everybody and their mother was there.
    Meanwhile, our generator was providing enough juice to power about three computers. One was used for stories, one for photos and one for pagination. We had a couple laptops that reporters used to write stuff and then transfer it into our system. We had A LOT of big pictures in the paper that day. The A section was probably 90 percent photos along with whatever local stuff we could gather.
    Our front page for sports had a second-day story from a high school game on the previous Friday that ran alongside a 5 column by 13-inch deep picture. No wire or internet, of course, so we used a couple leftover tab features to fill out the inside pages. Thankfully, it was the first weekend of football season and they were still timely.
    For printing, we used a paper a couple hours to the north. The owner of our paper went up there himself with a couple of trucks to bring the copies back. And then he basically lived in his office for a couple days. Not because he was working, but because his house was one of the last in town to get power restored. Seems he was on a small circuit with just a couple other homes and was a low priority. So the poor guy and his wife cleaned out their refrigerator and had a constant stream of food cooked up in the break room all week.

    Fortunately, we were in an area that wasn't devastated. Mainly just trees down and power out for a few days. Mine at home was on that afternoon and the paper's was back on the next day. I'm sure there's people in New Orleans and closer to the coast who have legitimate horror stories.
  5. mike311gd

    mike311gd Active Member

    That's an awesome story, David.
  6. EmbassyRow

    EmbassyRow Active Member

    Sorry. I saw the thread title and started to hear Ronnie James Dio in my head.

    "When there's display type...you know it always brings me down..."
  7. rpmmutant

    rpmmutant Member

    Not a weather story, but a power outage story:
    A transformer blew up in front of our office, knocking out power to the whole block of car dealers and the newspaper on the street. All the phones in the newspaper were hooked up to an electrical grid. The only phone that worked in the building was a fax phone in the classified department. I call the fire department, the transformer was on fire and in front of our building. Meanwhile, the sports editor, designers, composers, all set up camp in front of the building, watching the transformer burn, and trying to figure out who will make the beer run.
    About 15 minutes after calling the fire department, we see fire trucks pass our street about a block away. They must have passed and missed our street three times. I go back in the office and sure enough the fax machine phone rings. I pick up, assuming no one would be sending a fax to the classified department at 10 at night. It was the fire department.
    The conversation went pretty much as follows:
    Fire department: Did you call for a fire?
    Me: No thanks, we already have one.
    FD: No, I mean is there a fire at this number?
    Me: Yes, a transformer blew up. Your fire trucks are close. They just need to figure out how to turn left.
    FD: How long has it been burning?
    Me: Long enough for your fire trucks to drive by and pass it three times.
    FD: We'll have someone there shortly.
    Me: Take your time. This thing is close to burning out by itself.
    Meanwhile, the composers were melting candles to make wax and put together the pages they could for when the power came back.
    That was a fun night.
  8. SoCalDude

    SoCalDude Active Member

    We were a pretty small operation, so when a car hit a power pole outside, it knocked out our power to the whole building.
    Bad part, it was a Friday prep football night.
    I was running the desk, had all the non-prep stuff done already. On the news section we ran a photo of me in the backshop holding a flashlight. The pasteup guy was gluing the type on the page grid because the waxers wouldn't work.
    The phones worked but we didn't know it because they wouldn't ring nor would the buttons light up. In the middle of all this the City Editor -- typically the grizzled veteran, seen it all, done it all guy -- he's the first one to panic. Once we figured out the phones worked to call out, he was called and he tells me: "Well, tell the power company to fix it." DUH.
    Anyway, we ended up sending all of the preppies over to the City Editor's house. They took turns using the one remote terminal.
    Meanwhile, the editor drove me and a couple of news desk people down to our competitors office where they "graciously" allowed us to put out a paper. The preppies filed remotely into the competitor's computer.
    So I produced the sports section that night on a computer system that I had never seen before. It was a long and difficult night, but we achieved the final result of having a paper.
  9. Walter Burns

    Walter Burns Member

    I hope that if, God forbid, that situation ever presents itself, I'm witty enough to come up with that line.
  10. RedCanuck

    RedCanuck Active Member

    During the big east coast blackout in Aug. 2003, we were in the middle of pagination (we're a weekly) and we were probably about a half hour or so from putting the paper together when the power went out. We uttered the usual profanities and waited. Of course, our publisher, who usually sits in the dark anyway came out and asked why no one was working.

    Thinking it might have been a downed hydro pole or something, we sent staff out and we also listened to radio stations go out. Thought it might have been terror or something at the time. Anyway, we went and had a few beers while waiting.

    Things began to get worse with sewage backups and the like and it was already pitch black everywhere. We covered stores operating on emergency lighting and gas station lineups. I waited as town officials were ushered into a secret basement office for meetings and was ready to get their proclamation of emergency when the lights came back on at about 9:30 p.m.

    I got the story, rushed back in for about 11 and we ripped the paper apart to get it on the front page that night. Then, since the press' e-mail provider was iffy, we actually had someone drive the files an hour away at about 2 a.m. The paper got out somehow.

    As a side note, my dad was coming to visit me that day. I neglected to buy groceries and had a bare cupboard, so I was a tad worried that the power wasn't going to come on. I remember answering the phone in pitch black and he had been on the road for about 6 hours. He asked if I wanted to go for pizza when he got in, and I had to tell him that for most of the time he was driving, none of the east coast had power. We eventually settled for McDonald's at like 1 a.m.
  11. captzulu

    captzulu Member

    A few years ago, somebody backed a forklift into a transformer somewhere in the city, and half the town shuts down, including our office. It ended up being an A-1 story the next morning. Power stayed down for about 2-3 hours as we sat around in the dark. In fact, it was a big enough blackout that the rival paper from about 15-20 miles away was covering it and sent a photographer to our newsroom to take photos of us sitting around in the dark. I never got a chance to see if they ran any of those photos though.
  12. jadzia

    jadzia New Member

    Not a power failure story, but a few years ago I was working for a paper that printed at an off-site facility. We lost our connection to the printing plant, and couldn't get any negatives to come out at our plant. No one had any clue what was going on, and there was mass panic in the newsroom. We ended up having to put our pages on a disk, drive them to a sister paper located more than an hour away, print out the negatives, and drive them the whole 90 miles back to our printing plant, where they plated them and printed the paper. This went on for two days before it was determined that a bullet someone had fired into the air hit the ground and severed the fiberoptic cable that connected us to the printing plant. That was not a fun week, but the mileage reimbursement sure did add up.
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