Hurricane-hit newspapers defy Ivan to produce special editions

Hurricane force: Newspapers in Jamaica and America defied the elements to produce detailed coverage

As the third and most savage hurricane in a month swept through the Carribbean, journalists battled against the elements to keep the presses rolling.

Hurricane Ivan caught the former British colony of Grenada largely by surprise on Tuesday, 7 September and devastated the country leaving 34 dead.

Late this week only one of the three weekly newspapers appeared to have a working phone line.

Staff returned to work at Grenada Today on Monday and were working with journalists from rival title The Informer to help both papers come out with special editions on Thursday.

The Grenadian Voice as well as the Grenada Today buildings were badly damaged in the storm.

One journalist at Grenada Today told Press Gazette: “If we had laptop computers we might be able to pass more information on to people – we are trying to establish contact with international media organisations.

“Two FM stations have managed to stay working and I have been passing information on to them.”

The storm struck Jamaica early on Saturday, 11 September, killing twenty people.

News editor of the Jamaica Gleaner Byron Buckley said: “We had our editorial staff here right throughout the weekend. We had planned not to come out on Saturday, but were all here to gather information and make organised trips out when it was safe.”

He said the Gleaner building was largely storm-proof and has its own electricity supply. The Sunday edition came out the day after the storm passed and journalists kept readers updated throughout via the paper’s website, Gleaner Online.

Rival daily the Jamaica Observer managed to get a paper out even on the Saturday of the hurricane by printing early and then distributing it after the worst of the storm had passed.

The paper’s access to wire services was cut for three days after the storm damaged undersea cables on its way over to the Cayman Islands on Sunday.

Journalist Pete Sankey said: “We didn’t want to miss a day of publication.”

Ivan hit the Cayman Islands the following day and the Cayman Net News is the only print publication back up and running along with governmentsponsored Radio Cayman.

Acting news editor Wendy Ledger said: “Once the Cayman Net News staff emerged from their various battened down homes and shelters on Monday afternoon, most of us managed to get together on Tuesday 14th to start planning an edition of Cayman Net News for the forthcoming Friday. Although most of us had lost our homes and the office was flooded, we managed to establish an emergency office and start work on getting the paper out.”

The paper’s website is based in Miami so has kept going throughout, and a 16-page hurricane special edition was printed there.

Ledger said: “We are now working on a second post-hurricane edition and production is difficult but not impossible. Many of the team are homeless now but everyone is doing what they can to keep the paper going.

All of us, including management, went out on to the streets Friday and Saturday to hand out a free edition; the paper normally sells at 50 cents.

“All of the residents here were really pleased to get their hands on the first bit of print news about the hurricane.”

Ivan hit the United States coast last week where local newspapers were already well prepared. At the Mobile Register (Alabama) computers and other supplies were moved from the third-floor newsroom, with large windows, to interior meeting rooms without glass. The daily kept printing by setting up contingency plans with presses used by other newspapers.

The Sun Herald, a Mississippi morning paper, did not come out on Thursday but instead produced a hurricane extra on Wednesday to distribute to shelters and other gathering places.

By Dominic Ponsford

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