By: Nu Yang
The front page of the Nov. 1 edition of the New Canaan (Conn.) Advertiser carried a quote from Rob Mallozzi III, the city’s first selectman: “The true measure of a community is how they handle a crisis … and in this case, there is a spirit and commitment.” They’re fitting words for the first issue printed after Hurricane Sandy knocked down trees and power lines, leaving 70 percent of the city’s population in the dark.
Advertiser editor Joshua Fisher said the paper’s downtown offices didn’t lose power, and the small staff of three reporters made it a priority to keep residents informed.
“During a time of crisis, having information can comfort people,” he said.
The staff kept watch over the police scanner and recorded a running log of closed roads, shot video around town, snapped photographs of damaged structures and downed trees, and updated social media. Fisher said during that week, the staff produced nearly 100 Sandy-related stories for print and the website (ncadvertiser.com). According to Fisher, the paper’s circulation is 6,800. “There are 6,900 homes in town,” he added.
Fisher said social media aided the Advertiser, not only with reporting, but also with engaging with the community. “Readers were tweeting and posting on our Facebook when their power was back on, sending us photos, videos, and eyewitness reports.” Thanks to smartphones, he said, “just because people lose power doesn’t mean there isn’t any information out there … I’ve been doing this for 12 years now, and now we’re able to get news in and out in real time.”
When Hurricane Irene hit last year, Fisher said there was no power at the company-owned printing press for six days. This time, they were ready with a rented generator. The weekly publication comes out every Thursday, and the storm delayed the new edition for 20 hours, which Fisher said worked in their favor. “We had time to focus on the website and keep the paper updated.”
Meanwhile, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Boston Globe all dropped their paywalls so readers could access storm information for free. The message board on news website brigantinenow.com serving Brigantine, N.J. filled with reader questions about property damage, traffic updates, and volunteer opportunities. The site also features photos of the devastation Sandy caused, giving outsiders an up-close look.
New American Media reported that ethnic media played an important role with the immigrant populations in New York City. “Without the Chinese press in New York … thousands of Chinese and other ethnic groups would have been left scrambling for information, particularly the new immigrants who don’t fully understand (English) when they watch or read the news on television,” said Florence Lee, a volunteer at an evacuation center near Chinatown.
The New York Commercial Observer reported it might be a year until the New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report can return to their Lower Manhattan offices, which were damaged during the storm. Daily News publisher/owner and U.S. News editor-in-chief Mortimer B. Zuckerman said the companies’ Jersey City printing facilities lost power and flooded. He said The New York Times, Newsday, The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger, The Record (Bergen, N.J.), and The Hartford (Conn.) Courant all offered up their printing presses to help, while The Associated Press offered some of its office space for them to work in.
Fisher, who lost power at his home during the storm, said he stayed at the newspaper owner’s home — where there was still power — for a week. “We were so focused on all the bad stuff going on, we had no time to focus on our own problems.”