TV shows, newspapers manage to get the word out amidst power ou

Saturday, August 16, 2003

NEW YORK -- TV networks successfully scrambled to keep programs on the air, while newspapers affected by the power outage managed to hit the streets Friday morning with smaller editions focused on the blackout.

At ABC News, concerns that backup power was insufficient at the "Good Morning America" studio in Times Square sent the broadcast uptown to Peter Jennings' "World News Tonight" set, where Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson anchored a five-hour version of their morning show.

But there was more than blackout news on "Good Morning America." ABC had enough juice to air a live performance by singer Liz Phair from Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan.

Though Jennings was on vacation visiting Ottawa, one of the cities affected by the blackout, he phoned in reports to ABC News radio.

At NBC, power was restored at the "Today" studio -- which isn't served by backup generators -- a little more than an hour before "Today" was to sign on. But taking no chances, the network had Katie Couric and Lester Holt anchor the three-hour broadcast outside, in Rockefeller Plaza, using power from a satellite truck.

"Today" show executive producer Tom Touchet, on Long Island to get married on Saturday, rushed back to Manhattan to produce the broadcast.

The Detroit News printed an eight-page paper with no ads using plants in Battle Creek, Mich., two others in Ohio and one in Indianapolis. Editor-publisher Mark Silverman said the paper was able to make its full press run of about 242,000 copies, together with the 369,000-circulation Free Press, which is run under a joint operating agreement with the News.

The Detroit News set up shop in a hotel in Howell, Mich., about an hour west of Detroit.

Silverman said staffers put together pages in the makeshift newsroom and e-mailed them to the printing facilities.

"It was all we were able to do," Silverman said. "We invented the technology as we went along. ... You have the sense that it's an Election Night on steroids, except you don't know when it's going to end."

Power was restored at one of the News' own printing facilities, and the paper planned to put out regular editions for Saturday and Sunday, Silverman said.

Despite losing power at its New York headquarters, The Associated Press maintained its news services by shifting some key operations to bureaus in other cities.

"All AP news services continued without interruption," said AP President and CEO Tom Curley.

At 5:50 a.m. Friday, the lights suddenly came back on at AP headquarters, mere minutes after technicians warned the staff that their backup generator was about to give out.

Curley said spirits overnight remained high, despite intensified filing pressure and long periods without sleep or cool air.

The New York Times had auxiliary power at its 43rd Street headquarters, but had to combine some sections of the paper in Friday's editions. Its printing plant in Queens was knocked out and the paper's plant in Edison, N.J. had to make a double run, spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said.

Mathis said power had been restored to the Queens facility on Friday and that the paper would resume printing normally at both plants.

The New York Daily News distributed a 48-page special edition printed at its regular plant in Libertyview, N.J. The New York Post also put out 48 pages.

The Wall Street Journal managed to publish its normal format.

In Cleveland, The Plain Dealer lost all power, and a group of reporters were sent 25 miles south to the offices of the Akron Beacon Journal. The paper put out more than its full press run using the Beacon Journal's presses, but only one of the two editions contained classified advertising.

Editor Doug Clifton said the paper had just one laptop computer working on battery power at its Cleveland offices, which editors used to e-mail notes from local reporters down to Akron. Once pages were composed on computers, staffers had difficulty transferring them to Akron's printing machines.

"It was torture, a god-awful arrangement," Clifton said. "It was such a crazy makeshift thing that it was a wonder we got it out at all."

Power was restored Friday at The Plain Dealer's editorial offices and printing facilities, and the paper was planning a regular press run for the weekend.

The Globe and Mail newspaper published in Toronto ran a box on its front page headlined "It hit us, too" and explained:

"You will quickly notice that today's Globe and Mail is a highly unusual edition. Our production schedule was badly disrupted ... by the major power failure in Ontario and parts of the northeastern United States. These circumstances compelled us to produce a truncated version of the paper, with Report on Business and Sports folded into the front section. We apologize because some of your favorite features, including stock listings, are missing."

New York radio stations were briefly knocked off the air when the blackout first occurred. But powered by backup generators, they came back and two of the city's all-news stations, WINS and WCBS, went with "wall to wall" coverage, as WINS' Justin Schrager put it.

Assistant News Director Frank Lanza said WCBS switched its normal broadcast of the New York Yankees baseball game to sister station WFAN. (All three are Infinity stations).

The news stations were commercial-free until about noon Friday.

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