Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Surviving the Quake

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Surviving the Quake

Article excerpt

Newspaper printing plants got through the Los Angeles temblor without catastrophic damage, but some dailies were forced to shift temporarily to alternative production sites

FIVE NEWSPAPER PRINTING plants, some very near the epicenter of the earthquake that awakened Southern California in the early hours of Jan. 17, survived without catastrophic damage.

However, all closed temporarily, moving production to other sites. After all restarted their presses within a day or two, production resumed at four plants and a fifth continued press testing.

Production-distribution burdens at the Los Angeles Times' Valley plant in Chatsworth were absorbed by the paper's downtown Olympic and Orange County plants.

About five miles south of Chatsworth and about the same distance from the quake's epicenter, the headquarters of the Los Angeles Daily News was forced to shut down ad sales, newsroom and prepress operations. Closed too was the Daily News' four-year-old printing plant in Valencia, about 10 miles north by microwave link.

A few miles north of the epicenter and but a mile east of Valencia, Morris Newspapers' Santa Clarita Signal was back on its presses the night of Jan. 18, after publishing its edition that day at the Antelope Valley Press, 36 miles northeast in Palmdale.

Just across the county line, the Easy Street address of the Simi Valley Enterprise didn't live up to its name. The area was hard hit, and though the paper is printed a few miles away at the Thousand Oaks News-Chronicle, the otherwise-unharmed plant there lost power.

"We were wiped out," News-Chronicle editor Terry Greenberg said. "Our backup plan is to go to Ventura. Ventura's backup plan is to come here," he said. But the Star-Free Press, Ventura, and the group's dailies in Camarillo and Oxnard also lost power.

Staff began arriving at the NewsChronicle about 5 a.m. Jan. 17, half an hour after the quake struck. Alone there when the quake occurred was managing editor DeAnn Wahl, who Greenberg said "usually comes in very early to get things started" and was "scared to death."

As soon as staffers walked in, they were handed pads and told to go out and report on the disaster. Some were dispatched 20 miles to the Enterprise, which could not be reached by phone. With power out until about 1:30 p.m., returning reporters wrote on battery-powered laptop computers.

When group management decided to print at the San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune, copy could not be sent there by modern from Thousand Oaks. Greenberg said a group of staffers called up material on their TRS-80s, selected bits and pieces of copy for use, and read them to Wahl, who composed a story in longhand by the light of a camp lantern.

When staffers in Ventura got through to those in Thousand Oaks by phone, Greenberg dictated the story to a staffer working by candlelight. From Ventura, local copy and that from Thousand Oaks was dictated to the Tetegram-Tribune. Later, modern communication with the San Luis Obispo building was possible, said Star-Free Press editor John Irby (also the group's editor).

"We didn't have a plan," he said. "Like everyone else, we're working on a plan now."

The Star-Free Press sent six newsroom staffers on a two-hour ride to San Luis Obispo at 10:15 a.m. Stories were sent ahead by voice and modem for a 12:30 p.m. deadline for an Extra that day. "We rented a plane and flew the Extra back that afternoon," Irby said. The four-page section was in news racks countywide by 6 p.m.

"We were using Radio Shack [TRS-80s] here ... with what looked like jumper cables going out to the car batteries," Irby said. More staffers went to San Luis Obispo to work on the Jan. 18 edition. Power was restored by 3 p.m., but because the utility warned that it might be lost again and with other arrangements in effect, he said, the decision was made to print the edition there. …

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