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Panpa Bulletin : August 2006
NEWS 8 | PANPA bULLETIN august 2006 When a heavy snowstorm cut power, blocked roads, shut down com- munication, South Canterbury's daily, The Timaru Herald, had problems. Not only was it impossible, some- times for days, to deliver the paper to the deeper snow areas further inland but the editorial department was extra short of staff to cope with the emergency and story opportu- nity. A combination of job vacancies, sick-leave, absence on holiday, and snow too deep to allow travel from home meant the regional crisis had to be covered initially by only the chief reporter, four reporters and one photographer. "The work they did was phenom- enal," said editor Dave Wood. "We added six pages to the Tuesday [first day of the storm] paper configura- tion. The first section of eight pages was devoted entirely to the weather story. The remaining editorial pages took care of the other news." The heaviest snowstorm in 60 years blanketed the countryside from the coast to the alpine peaks. Timaru's Botanic Gardens recorded 17 cm, the suburban hills 25 cm and more than a metre in the country. Problems arose not so much from the depth of the snow as its wet weight and its quick freeze long- term life. Wood told a management meet- ing it was "a week from Hell" for dis- tribution, but "a week from Heaven for editorial", with so many story and picture opportunities. Any staff member, including the editor, who owned a four-wheel drive vehicle, was pressed into service to help distribute newspa- pers along treacherously icy, snow packed roads from 5am each day. Most of the delivery contractors did not have four-wheel drive vehicles and conditions were too extreme for children to make deliveries. Similarly, reporters had to bor- row staff members' four-wheel drive transport in order to travel to the news sites. Telephone commu- nication was out. Collapsed power lines also meant cell-phone towers blinked off once their emergency batteries were exhausted. News gathering had to be on the spot, face to face. As well as the hard news the Her- ald also published guides to help people to cope with the emergency. The advice included what food had to be discarded and what could for a time be used when powerless freez- ers defrosted. What precautions to take in the home when power sup- ply was about to be restored, was another piece of such advice. "We got an overwhelmingly posi- tive feedback from readers, both in terms of our coverage and the fact that we were able to get the paper to them," said Wood. Papers sold out on the first two days after the storm. A 20-page supplement, The Big Snow, printed on high quality paper and selling at $2 a copy was being planned at the time of writing. Oh,and flood too A few weeks after flooding, earth slipsandheavyrain causeddistribu- tion problems again for daily news- papers in the lower North Island. Experience with the much more serious flooding in 2004 was not much help for circulation manag- ers and their contractors this time but editorial departments were pre- pared. As Wairarapa Times-Age editor Dave Saunders put it, "We have had two or three big floods over recent years so we now have the contacts pretty well in place.We know who to go to and where to go." "Some roads were cut on some days," Saunders said, "and we could not get through with newspapers but news coverage was not ham- pered greatly." John Maslin, editor of the Wan- ganui Chronicle in a hard-hit area recalls a shortage of staff at the time of the emergency. "We had three staff on any one day and three photographers," Maslin said. Essentially one reporter and one photographer were sent North, an- other reporter/photographer pair to the South where the worst flood- ing was and another pair sent into rugged borderland. One editorial team became stranded on the wrong side of the flooded Whangaehu River for hours but managed to hitch a heli- copter ride to safety. Too bad they had to leave behind the borrowed four-wheel drive vehicle belonging to visitor Craig Marsh, APN New Zealand Regionals' chief operat- ing officer. He was in Wanganui for a meeting at the time and offered editorial his vehicle for the morn- ing. Fortunately for Marsh the river level dropped rapidly through the day and he could later be driven to pick up his four-wheel drive. The newspaper's circulation manager Alexandra Doble pays tribute to her determined contrac- tors who bypassed closed stretches of road and often found lengthy alternative routes to make deliver- ies. Police let one driver through a road closed to other traffic. Another made three trips in a day to take advantage of receding flood waters and cleared slips. Wellington-based Ray Pointon, distribution manager for Fairfax Central, found on the worst day that papers could not be delivered North andWest ofWanganui. Later he was able to divert The Dominion Post delivery trucks an extra two hours through Palmerston North so as to bypass closed roads. One contractor drove over a rise and dropped into deep water. He managed to escape his partially submerged vehicle and sodden pa- pers. To the East, in the storm-hitWair- arapa district, delivery could not be made to Martinborough on the worst day. Through sleet and snow . . . the news still gets out unusually heavy weather in new Zealand presented some challenges in distribution. Warren Page fnds out how far a little ingenuity can go The Timaru Herald captures South Canterbury’s heaviest snowstorm in 60 years