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Panpa Bulletin : May 2011
Reporters wrote what they saw, and the stories from that first day came from being chillingly close to the carnage. The Star scrapped all editorial plans for its Wednesday edition and pulled together a special earthquake edition. As APN NZ Regional Newspa- pers editor-in-chief Rick Neville describes, it was not always possible for Christchurch-based staff to get the information they needed, so Auckland-based staff stepped in to help. "As in war, the front line soldiers don't know what is going on," he says ruefully. Staff at APN's New Zealand Herald in Auckland, and at Fairfax's Domin- ion Post in Wellington, began helping their respective colleagues. They collected the content pro- duced, publishing to their respective websites and taking charge of sub- editing and design. The pages were then sent to the printers in Christchurch and Ash- burton. "I don't think we could have done a 24-page broadsheet paper, proc- essed it, laid it out, without them," says Press editor Andrew Holden. Press production manager Kirk Martin says the adage of keeping it simple served everyone well. They had to "dumb everything down," he recalls. "That first night, we put out an emergency edition. "We put out one section, 24-pages, normally we go up to 150-odd pages. We dropped all the commercial inserts." Editorial strategy at both papers was similarly straightforward: they would publish what they saw, and as much as they could. Advertising was a more hazardous terrain. Neither paper wanted to run the risk of placing pre-booked advertis- ing for businesses that no longer existed. "For the advertisers we couldn't contact, we made a decision whether or not to run their ads," says Star ad- vertising manager Shane Victor. His counterpart at The Press, Mark Ross, remembers it like this: "There was no contact whatsoever with the local advertisers and I said, 'no local ad is appearing'. "We kept going with that decision for seven days -- no ad would publish without re-confirmation. Anything previously booked . . . nup, it wasn't running." Though both newspapers have experienced a surge of advertising from government bodies, insurance companies, banks and assistance organisations, near- to mid-term ad- vertising prospects remain murky. "We have found local advertising is starting to pick up although it's noth- ing like previously," says Star general manager Steve McCaughan. "It's difficult to gauge what ad- vertising levels and revenues are going to be in the next two to three months." Having taken the news from the streets to their respective printing sites, the last hurdle for the news- papers was to get copies onto the streets. "The initial thought was to double the supplies to the areas that we knew were unaffected," says Press distribution manager Ross Collins. "We lost immediately 880 sub- scribers [within the central business district] but those numbers were re- placed two and three times in retail demand," adds Press newspaper sales manager John Parry. "Our contractors were still deliver- ing around 4.30pm and some were turning into streets where people were forced out onto the road, and they were being applauded as they went by for delivering the paper." The Star, for its part, was selling out within hours. Editor Barry Clarke says that in those first few days, he was fielding calls from dozens of readers desper- ate to know where they could find a copy. "We realised there was a great need to service our readers and advertisers, and that momentum has carried through," he says. Of the two newspapers, The Star has undergone the most dramatic changes. Press staff grapple with altered work- ing conditions and a newsgathering environment that continues to be shaped by February 22 -- most local stories now have a post-quake angle. The Star has completely revamped its design, content, and printing schedule. The newspaper printed daily for just over two weeks before reverting to its twice-weekly frequency, though it is now distributed of a Wednesday and Saturday morning. Previously it came out of a Wednesday and Friday evening. But the newspaper has kept its tabloid format and continues to in- clude more syndicated content from APN sister newspapers, such as the New Zealand Herald. If February 22 was a day the news- paper rules were broken, some will not be mended. The changes the earthquake has wrought on newspaper publishing in Christchurch will not fade quickly. Neither will the memories nor the humanity. www.panpa.org.au 14 | MAY 2011 | The PANPA Bulletin CONTINUED FROM PAGE 13 Steve McCaughan General manager, The Star "Obviously we've provided the basics like counselling, support and financial assistance where needed, but we've also tried to bring people together as a team because what's come through this is sitting at home with aftershocks rumbling through your house, on your own, is just awful." Richard Cosgrove Picture editor, The Press "In terms of image selection, you don't want to hide them [readers] from the truth. There's no hiding from the truth of an earthquake that's destroyed 65 percent of your city. But you don't want to rub their noses in it." Peter Grueber IT and operations manager, The Star "To a degree we do cloud compute when we use the Genera System, a lot of that is kept in Auckland which is why they could pick up and run the paper so quickly, because a lot of it was already up there and ready to go." Shane Victor Advertising Manager, The Star "Staff mobility is now really key to our business going forward. Christchurch is going to change dramatically after this earthquake. I think we have shown in the last couple of weeks how the mobility of the team is going to make us a more efficient advertising department." Survivors speak Top: Police officers search for survivors in the crushed CTV building following the February 22 quake. Left: Damage to The Press building as seen from above. Right: The Christchurch earthquake wiped out some 65 percent of the city. Rising from the rubble No two disasters are the same. Colleagues from The Press and The Star offer this advice GETTING THROUGH IT Create an environment in which many people can step up and make decisions Invest in a diversity of equipment to cope with different conditions. A spare satellite phone may seem like an ex- travagance but it's invaluable in a crisis Be prepared: set up text groups, charge mobile phones, and keep vital equip- ment handy An iPhone is great for creating on-the- fly video, but not if you leave it behind Be flexible: staff may not be ready or able to return to work when you want them to. They can work more effectively without coming into the office Work in pairs where possible: it helps keep staff safe and sane Dumb it down: pared-back formats worked best Business Continuity Planning. Every IT manager knows what this is. Make sure they have a plan for you • • • • • • • • STAFF SAFETY & WELLBEING Counselling must be offered. Ask coun- cillors to attend social events like staff BBQs so people can approach them casually Professional journalist trainers, such as speakers from the Dart Centre for Jour- nalism and Trauma, can offer specific help to journalists after they have been through trauma Staff Fun Days will help lift the mood Allow flexible working hours so staff can get their personal lives back on track With cross-city power cuts, have wash- ing machines, showers or BBQs on site Hold forums for staff to receive insur- ance and financial advice For larger publishers, establish an ex- change program with other newspa- pers to give staff a break from covering the disaster • • • • • • •