NY media spreads the news despite blackout

Newspapers were the hardest hit in the big US blackout. Most television and radio stations, with back-up generators, were able to get back on the air quickly – even though there were few listeners or viewers.

But scores of newspapers, from New York to Detroit and up into Canada, found themselves without printing facilities. Some were helped by newspapers in neighbouring cities that were unaffected and offered the use of their presses.

Hardest hit was the New York Post, whose two plants are both in New York City. It virtually missed a complete issue – managing only to put out 250,000 copies, half its usual run, with just three pages of text and four photographs about the blackout.

It was only able to do so due to the generosity of the Bergen Record, a newspaper in New Jersey unaffected by the power failure.

By comparison, the rival Daily News, which has several plants, was barely affected. The New York Times also struggled to put out a slimmed-down edition by merging several sections of the newspaper and switching to one printing plant outside the city.

Most newspapers editors were sitting down to their evening news conferences when the blackout hit, so many were forced to return to their desks using torches and candles.

With no computers, reporters wrote stories the old-fashioned way – in longhand and dictated their copy to colleagues over the telephone.

At the Toronto Star, one editor dug out a long-unused typewriter. A reporter on a bike picked up copy from the Canadian Press news agency which was operating with back-up power.

At the Cleveland Plain Dealer, one editor drove home to retrieve a portable generator – leaving his family in the dark. As a result, the newspaper was able to print an abbreviated edition – 16 pages instead of the usual 60.

At most papers pages were laid out by flashlight. Some managed to keep computers going with portable generators – but as one editor commented at the Detroit Free Press, it was somewhat incongruous working a computer by candlelight. “But also a little romantic,” added a female executive.

The newspaper managed to produce an eight-page issue but without ads.

The Wall Street Journal, which is close to the World Trade Center and managed even in September 2001 to publish as usual, was lucky to also come through the blackout unscathed.

All 17 of its printing plants around the country kept on operating.

Associated Press also kept running by switching its operations to other cities.

The most poignant story of the day was that of New York freelance photographer Lorenzo Ciniglio who, lugging his heavy equipment, made his way across blacked-out Manhattan, taking pictures on the way of the crowds and the backed-up traffic.

Finally, dripping with sweat, he reached the NY Post offices, struggled up 10 flights of stairs, staggered into the newsroom – only to be told he had missed the final deadline by 10 minutes.


By Jeffery Blyth in New York

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