Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Florida Papers Take Hurricane in Stride

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Florida Papers Take Hurricane in Stride

Article excerpt

THOROUGHLY PREPARED FOR a much harsher hurricane, Florida's newspapers suffered no significant disruptions when Erin made landfall early in morning of Aug. 2.

Even at the very center of the hurricane in Vero Beach -- where the Vero Beach Press-Journal greeted Erin with the headline, "Ground Zero" -- the local newspaper managed to print and distribute its Aug. 2 edition.

"It was a minimal hurricane, a Category 1 .... It was a whole different situation from Hurricane Andrew. Erin started to break up pretty fast. We didn't even get the water they were talking about," said Darryl K. Hicks, associate publisher and general manager of the Press-Journal

Andrew, rated a Category 4 on the 1-to-5 scale of hurricane strength, devastated newspapers operations during its destructive path through South Florida in 1992.

Like papers throughout Erin's projected path, the Press-Journal had geared up for a much fiercer storm.

Its presstime was moved back to 6 p.m. from the normal 2 a.m. to allow carriers time to deliver their papers -- and take cover themselves.

The Press-Journal had also dispatched an emergency crew to a Daytona Beach motel in the event the Vero Beach facilities were crippled.

A crew drawn from the newsroom, production and composing departments were prepared to put the paper out on the presses of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Hicks said.

The two papers have had a reciprocal agreement for publishing in natural disasters.

As it turned out, that was not necessary -- and the only limitation on the paper was that delivery was prohibited in the evacuated barrier islands and mobile home parks.

"We probably missed 35% to 40% of our home delivery customers," Hicks said. Copies of the hurricane edition were delivered to those subscribers with the August 3 paper.

An assessment team sent through the newspaper's facilities on the morning after the hurricane found no damage, Hicks said.

At nearby Port St. Lucie, the Tribune also moved its presstime back to 6 p.m. -- and sent most of its employees home well before that.

"We planned for the worst," publisher David T. Rutledge said. "We worked with a skeleton crew. We sent people home in the early afternoon.

"In fact, though, we could have gone with our regular schedule," Rutledge said. "The storm just sort of whimpered in."

Probably the hardest hit newspaper was Gannett's Florida Today in Melbourne, which suffered an estimated $250,000 in damages when fierce winds ripped a sign from its standard and blew it into the building's roof.

Publisher and chief executive officer Michael J. Coleman said the sign punctured the roof and caused flooding in about a dozen circulation, advertising and executive offices.

"It was messy stuff more than anything else," Coleman said.

Like 70% of its Brevard County market, Florida Today lost power, but the facility suffered no production downtime because the entire plant and office complex has backup generators.

Florida Today pushed its presstime back an hour and was able to deliver to 80% of its market. The only areas not served were coastal neighborhoods closed by public authorities, Coleman said.

Coleman, who is also senior group president of Gannett's South Newspaper Group, was on the phone with executives of the Pensacola News Journal through the day of Aug. …

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