By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Visions of newspaper pages, not sugar plums, danced in our heads after the derecho that flattened corn crops, snapped power lines, toppled trees and destroyed homes and other property. How dare the ferocious, straight-line windstorm barrel into Iowa on The Catholic Messenger’s deadline?
Working off-site in our homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all six of us Messenger staffers experienced the wicked weather differently mid-afternoon Aug. 10. The storm left nearly 1 million homes and businesses (including all of ours) without power along a 770-mile path in the Midwest, NBC News later reported.
Assistant Editor Anne Marie Amacher had an inkling of the storm’s disregard for deadlines. “Save and back up,” she said in an email to me, the editor, and Lindsay Steele, our diocesan reporter, referring to stories and photos for that week’s paper. We wanted to prevent the derecho from denying our readers their weekly newspaper.
“In the middle of the night while lying on the couch listening to the hum of the generator and/or portable air conditioner, I started thinking of different scenarios of how to get the paper to press,” Anne Marie said. “Who did we need to call? What were our options?” I was thinking similar thoughts, while tossing and turning in my bed!
On Tuesday morning, Anne Marie woke up to find her internet connection restored and the generator still humming. “I texted coworkers to see what was up. ” She connected with everyone but me. My cellphone and landline were dead. She contacted the chancery, which houses our office, but the power was still out.
Anne Marie contacted Trico, our newspaper’s printer, and attempted to contact the U.S. Postal Service to assess options to get the paper printed and mailed to subscribers. She asked Jill Henderson, our circulation and business office coordinator, to call Trico to modify the advertising percentage because some color ads planned for that week’s issue were inaccessible. Later, after power had been restored, Jill called back to revise the ad percentage for the now accessible ads! “Trico was gracious with us and helped us revert back to our original figure,” Jill said. “I was ready to proof pages to help get the paper off to the printer.”
Lindsay had stopped by the chancery the afternoon of the storm to search for archive photos to accompany a feature story. She finished her work quickly, after hearing that dangerous storms with winds of up to 90 miles per hour were headed our way.
She and her 4-year-old son Bradley got caught in the storm after she picked him up from her mother-in-law’s house. “Trees appeared to explode before my eyes. Leaves and branches filled the air like a plague of locusts. I prayed we’d make it home safely, which we did, although the power was out.”
They later headed to her mother’s home in Geneseo, Ill., because she still had power. Lindsay figured that gave her a better chance of helping get the Messenger to press the following day.
On Tuesday morning, Anne Marie and Lindsay still couldn’t reach me, so they moved ahead. “Anne Marie led the efforts by thinking creatively about how we might be able to create and send pages,” said Lindsay, who realized the value of the training we are receiving from the Catholic Press Association. “A lot of files that otherwise wouldn’t have been available to us in the absence of the server were available, thanks to a recent shift toward editing and uploading stories on Google Docs.”
She, Anne Marie and Tony Forlini, our webmaster/videographer, worked from their laptops, communicating by text, emails and Google Drive. “I was helping look for additional stories to use as filler just in case we could not have full access to some of our files,” Tony said. Phil Hart, our advertising representative proofed pages from home. “I was a little luckier than most. Our power came back on early Tuesday morning, so I was able to access info reliably in real time. My backyard was and still is a mess, but my power and internet were rock solid,” he said.
Anne Marie contacted a friend with a working cellphone who agreed to stop at my house so that we could communicate. Before that happened, I heard a ping on my cell phone and read a message from Anne Marie. I left immediately for her house to go to work!
She was in communication with the diocese’s IT director, who called when power was restored at the chancery, right before lunch. “So we headed to the chancery to complete the paper,” Anne Marie said. “It’s the latest we’ve ever been in more than a decade, but our printer at Trico was willing to work with us and to tell us it was OK. Still no power at any of our homes, but we got the paper out!”
“I was thankful that everything seemed to fall into place; any variances along the way, and we may not have been able to produce the paper on time,” Lindsay said. “Even the fact that we were equipped for remote production of the paper, due to the pandemic, made the production of this week’s paper possible.”
The Messenger, not the derecho, had the final word!
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)