Magazine article Editor & Publisher

After Blackout, Papers Probe Power Structure

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

After Blackout, Papers Probe Power Structure

Article excerpt

Where will YOU be when the lights go out? Our survey finds very few newspapers prepared for the worst.

While the recent northeast black- out forced newspapers from Detroit to New York to scramble for energy to put out their daily product, it also caused many papers unaffected by the power outage to reassess their own backup plans.

"I'm dead in the water," said Paul Webb, vice president/production for The Dallas Morning News, when asked how a wide-ranging blackout across Texas would affect him. "I have no backup capabilities at all if there is a blackout over a general area. Virtually no one in our area has backup generators."

Webb's story was repeated across the country by editors who spoke with E&P. Most said they had agreements with neighboring papers to help out if a localized power failure occurred, but in the case of a wide- ranging short circuit over several states -- such as the one that occurred Aug. 14 -- a majority of papers would be left, literally and figuratively, in the dark.

"We would be hard-pressed to print even a small paper," said Ted Lutz, vice president/business manager of The Washington Post. "If we lost power to both of our (printing) plants, we would be struggling."

One advantage for the Post, Lutz explained, was that the paper's printing plants are in separate states -- Maryland and Virginia -- with power feeds coming from different utility companies. The paper's main computer system was moved out of Washington, D.C. to a Virginia site shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, to avoid the crippling effect a terrorist attack could bring. In addition, the Post has a backup generator that could power the main Washington newsroom and pre-press facilities, but not the main plants. "We are exploring how we might manage it in the case of a major problem," Lutz said. "We could not assume that if the Maryland plant lost power that The Sun (of Baltimore), up the road, would be able to help us."

For a number of newspapers, the only absolute protection is the purchase or leasing of backup generators, something that can run into millions of dollars.

"That is on our list (of proposals), but nothing concrete has been done about it," Rich Cox, senior vice president/operations for the San Francisco Chronicle said about buying a generator. "Right now, if there was a blackout on most of the West Coast, we would not be able to print." Cox said the Chronicle has an emergency generator for its downtown newsroom, which was put in place during the California energy crisis several years ago, but none at any of its three printing plants, two of which are outside the city. …

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