written by Bill:
Dispatch from Blizzardville
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Along about now, the hardy souls who have chosen — clearly during some form of mental lapse — to reside in the frozen north begin to hallucinate about palm trees and lush fairways and people attired in something other than parkas and mukluks.
As I write, the Great Midwest is still digging out from an “historic” snowstorm. Listen to the breathless announcers on TV and radio and one surely would conclude the snow-pocalypse could have wiped out humanity. They whip up a public frenzy like the 50 mph winds whip up snowdrifts.
Truth is, if you live in the Midwest — our usual surroundings are Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin — it snows. Get used to it. Life goes on.
There are, however, interesting tales that accompany extreme weather conditions. I thought I’d share one, involving how seriously newspapers take the responsibility to get information out to readers. Part of it is a belief in the necessity of what journalists do. Part of it is just tradition — the free press always runs, no matter what.
Almost always, that is. The Tulsa (Oklahoma) World did not publish on Monday because of the storm. Let’s just say the nationwide newspapering family was shocked.
Wimpy. Just my opinion.
The snow flew and the wind blew here, too, with a foot and a half piling up drifts 5-7 feet high. We got a paper out anyway. Here’s how.
By around 4 a.m. the worst had passed. By “worst,” mind you, I’m not implying it was balmy at that hour. It was awful. But our phone tree was working feverishly as managers and staffers tried to figure out who had a fighting chance of getting to work.
Not me. At least not on wheels, as drifts formed a white sea all around my humble lodgings.
A hardy handful of pressmen and one lonely journalist, who lived relatively near the paper, managed to get within sight of the building. No lots plowed, of course, so nowhere to stop and park a car. They circled.
Finally, before sun-up, a big snowplow made one swipe through a roadway not too far from my home. As phone calls continued I learned the paper’s publisher, who has a four-wheel-drive vehicle, thought he could get to a nearby main road. Quickly, we made arrangements for me to hike out and meet him. Worked like a charm.
With a vehicle moving, he drove and I worked the phone, figuring out who we could get to and pick up. Long story short, within 45 minutes we had a truck full of journalists and were at the paper.
As the time passed more folks trickled in. We had just enough to get basic reporting done, stories written, pages assembled and load plates on the press. When all was said and done, the press started just 10 minutes later than on a normal day.
Delivering the product … well, that’s another story. Probably 75 percent of the papers were delivered by the time crews were called off, with those missed being serviced as soon as possible.
Why go to all that trouble — including, yes, the risk? For heaven’s sake, why not just upload what you can online and call it a day?
We did go online with information as quickly and efficiently as possible. Emergency alerts and government information were provided immediately and updated for the online edition along with that day’s stories and photos.
Most of our readers, though, still want a printed edition. And we still honor our traditions.
As far as we know, for more than 160 years, the presses always have rolled. Through floods and fires and blizzards and wars and God knows what else.
We are not willing to be the ones to break that tradition. Simple as that.
Would the world stop turning or the billions on the planet pause to take notice if the pressroom stayed dark?
We’re not vain enough to think that.
But in an era when traditions casually are tossed aside and so many people choose to forget their heritage, we decided once again to honor ours and keep faith those in whose footsteps we follow.
We’ll do the same thing, next blizzard.
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