Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Midnight in Y2K Garden of Calm and Cleanup

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Midnight in Y2K Garden of Calm and Cleanup

Article excerpt

Newspapers scramble to shift gears when new year's madness is a no-show

For Winona (Minn.) Daily News Managing Editor Marc Wehrs, New Year's Eve consisted of cleaning up his office, noshing on takeout shrimp, and viewing local fireworks from a newsroom window.

While many daily papers packed their newsrooms with extra reporters, editors, and contingency plans in case of a surprise Y2K computer glitch or terrorist attack, the 11,880-daily- circulation News was practically deserted when the clock struck midnight, with only Wehrs, George Althoff, the publisher, and Lee Huwald, a technician, on hand.

"Lee had a checklist of equipment to check, and everything functioned after midnight," said Wehrs, 36. "I checked in with the cops to make sure it was as quiet as it seemed, and then we all went home."

After putting the Jan. 1 paper on press early, at 8 p.m., Wehrs let his five reporters leave to enjoy the holiday evening, keeping three scribes on call in case something happened. Wehrs then kept tabs on local police and New Year's events by phone until 2 a.m., while Althoff and Huwald double-checked newsroom equipment.

"I was comfortable with the idea of just knowing where reporters were instead of having them in the building ready to go," said Wehrs.

His optimistic approach was one of many adopted by daily newspapers nationwide as 1999 turned into 2000 and threats of computer mayhem, terrorism, and other unknowns took hold. But, while peace prevailed in Winona, other parts of the country took fears to heart.

Among those prepared for the unexpected in a big way was The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which kept 300 of their 500 editorial workers on the job at midnight New Year's Eve - a far cry from the usual 50 staffers who normally cover the incoming year.

"Was there a letdown with not too much to cover? Yes!" said John Walter, managing editor. "But we had people assigned to cover both the Y2K celebrations and the possible computer glitches. We just modified it as we went along."

Walter said the paper produced its Jan. 1 issue with a regular 12:45 a.m. press run that offered coverage of local and international New Year's events - but none of the catastrophic computer problems that had been predicted by some.

"Eventually, we began peeling a few people off after midnight," said Walter. "Everybody had things to do and phone calls to make."

In most cases, newspapers had contingency plans in place, including the assignment of extra staff, in case major problems occurred. For many, the beefed-up staffing turned out to be unnecessary, but an important planning tool for peace of mind. …

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