Storm Blitzes Distribution; Newspapers Long East Coast Hit with Impassible Roads, States of Emergency and Reduced Press Runs

Article excerpt

THE SUPERLATIVES FLEW almost as furiously as the snow.

"Whopper Blizzard!" "East Coast Crippled," "One For The Books," screamed headlines of newspapers across the easter seaboard following last week's record-breaking snowfall.

According to the National Weather Service, they weren't exaggerating. At final tally, the storm, which began on Sunday morning Jan. 7, and continued through Monday evening, dumped as much as 30 inches of snow in Philadelphia and 20 inches in New York. Parts of West Virginia got 43 inches of snow, and more than two feet fell in areas around Boston.

At least 43 deaths along the Northeast corridor were blamed on the storm. Eight states declared a full or limited state of emergency, banning all road travel except for emergency vehicles. While most newspapers went to press -- some at reduced runs -- treacherous roads sidelined delivery trucks.

The following is a sampling of how newspapers in the storm's path managed their printing, circulation and delivery operations.

ELKINS, W.VA., INTER-MOUNTAIN

Circulation manager Gene Cowgill didn't mince words when describing the storm: "We got pounded. Our whole circulation area got pounded."

Little surprise then, that delivery for the 11, 379 daily was "not up to par."

With mountain areas to cover and drifts up to 10 feet, some motor routes were stranded, but the biggest problems were in the outlying areas that comprise the bulk of the Inter-Mountain's circulation area, Cowgill said.

One driver reported that his route took nine hours to finish, and many brought people with them to help drop off papers -- and push if needed.

While the main roads had been pretty well cleared by Wednesday, some secondary roads still had as much as three feet of snow, Cowgill reported.

"Basically, we leave it up to the contractor," Cowgill said. "We print the paper. If you can't get it, don't do it." Those who didn't receive their Monday or Tuesday editions would get them later in the week, he added.

MORGANTOWN, W. VA., DOMINION POST

It's not often that people call the newspaper to compliment its service, but that's what they did in Morgantown.

Although some mountain routes were impassible, customers in town who received their newspapers on Monday called the Dominion Post to compliment its carriers.

"They couldn't believe they got their newspapers," said circulation operations manager Joe Duley. Full delivery was expected to resume on Wednesday, he added.

CHARLOTTE (N.C.) OBSERVER

With its circulation area encompassing mountains, beaches and everything in between, the, Observer was hit fairly hard by the storm, said Gus Howell, circulation director of distribution. Howell said that in its own county, the Observer went to about 95% of regular-delivery homes. That dropped to about 70% to 80% for total in-state operations, he added.

Along more isolated routes, such as the mountains, only about half of the newspapers were delivered; but subscribers who did not receive a paper, could opt for either back issues or a credit to their account.

"The carriers rose to the occasion," Howell said. "It was man against nature, or woman against nature. They looked at it as a big challenge. Managers spent 16 hours a day getting the paper out."

Not surprisingly, the Observer's in-store newsracks did much better than those on the street.

"They sold good where people were crazy enough to go out before they realized how bad the storm was," Howell observed.

ROANOKE (VA.) TIMES & WORLD-NEWS

With most businesses closed Monday, the Times & World-News had a "day of grace," but by 6 a.m. Tuesday, its customer service lines were backed up with callers looking for their newspapers, said circulation director Helen Burnett, who added, "it's nice to be wanted."

The Times & World-News was able to get papers to any carrier who could get out, but many routes could not be completed. …