A stressful Sunday morning at the Nevada Appeal
An editor’s phone is like a nerve synapse. Each day it carries so many messages of joy, gratitude, aggravation and sorrow.
“You have 51 new messages.”
That’s what I heard when I picked up my phone after Sunday’s late delivery of the Appeal. Many were angry customers, justifiably, who’d already been trying to reach our overloaded circulation department for more than an hour.
But not one of them felt worse than those whose job it is to get the paper to you on time every day, and that includes all of us who work at the paper on Mallory Way. There is no more basic or important mission for us than to make sure we’re there for you every morning.
On Sunday, we failed, and we apologize.
What I can say unequivocally is that we’ve vowed to learn from the problems we experienced that night so we can try to prevent them from happening again.
What were those problems? It was a combination of two events that almost never happen on their own, let alone together on the same night.
The first of those was that we blew our midnight deadline in the newsroom for having our pages sent to the pressroom. That deadline is critical because so many people in this building are lined up depending on the papers to be out on time, and at the end of that line is the people who deliver the paper to your driveway.
Our problem in the newsroom was that the photographs from the WNCC Wildcats opening world series victory in Grand Junction, Colo., that we had been depending on did not arrive due to transmission problems. With little time to fix the problem, our page designer was forced to redesign the sports pages with only minutes before deadline. It was an impossible task, and our deadline was lost in those stressful final moments.
But that problem alone wasn’t enough to make your paper late. Everyone in that delicate chain that gets the paper to you on time was ready to adapt, even though our lapse was likely to make them work later.
In fact, you never would have known the difference had the final blow not struck at about 1:45 a.m. It was an electrical spike that originated from outside the building. The motors on the press, which was running at a dizzying speed of 34,000 papers per hour, shut down immediately. The 130 rollers inside the press did not. The result was that the newsprint proceeded to wrap tightly around those rollers inside our multi-million dollar state-of-the-art press until the machine finally came to a halt.
It was a catastrophe.
And it couldn’t have happened at a worse time … Saturday night on a holiday weekend.
For the next 21Ú2 hours, our press crew worked frantically clearing that paper out of the press, tearing it away piece by piece. They were still working on it at the time they normally go home for the night.
Even with that done, they still had to refeed the press and print the paper.
As you can imagine, this was having a chain reaction on other departments. Many of the carriers – independent contractors – who normally pick up their papers at 2 a.m. at the loading dock, went home knowing it would be hours before the papers would be ready. Some had holiday plans or even other jobs and could not come back, meaning members of our internal circulation department were preparing to deliver the papers on their own. We ask you to remember that the carriers we depend on to deliver the paper were not at fault in any of this.
Subscriber services also knew what was coming. Normally, there are two people here on Sunday morning taking calls from subscribers who didn’t receive their papers. On Sunday, the entire crew came in. Some canceled or delayed their holiday weekend plans with their families to answer the calls. Even with the extra phones, many subscribers had difficulty getting through and some assumed we’d left the phones off the hook.
The calls began coming in at 6 a.m. and they didn’t taper off until much later that morning. More than 1,000 people got through and hundreds more left messages. Many people were angry at first, but understanding after being told about the problem.
Subscribers finally began getting their papers at about 9 a.m. but it would take hours before they were all out and, finally, everyone could go home.
So above all we’re sorry for not getting you the paper on time. It was a painful experience for the crews that were on duty that night.
There are no guarantees there won’t be further power surges. They’re beyond our control and originate outside the building. New press units being installed at the Appeal have special surge protectors that will lessen, but not eliminate, the extent of the problem should it happen again. And, in the newsroom, we’ve also learned from the problem that kept the photos from arriving and have built in redundancies to make sure it won’t happen again.
But the thing that lingers long after all those phone messages have been cleared away is how so many of our employees responded, too many to mention here. Several showed up early that morning on their days off without even being asked. They wanted to help their co-workers, and they know how important it is to get your paper to your doorstep on time.
Believe me, after Sunday morning, it’s something we’ll never forget.
• Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at 881-1221 or firstname.lastname@example.org