Biloxi’s ‘Sun-Herald’ Presses On, But Many Employees Unaccounted For

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By: Jennifer Saba

Like the residents of Biloxi, Miss., The Sun-Herald staff has suffered from Katrina’s pounding of the Gulf Coast. Lee Ann Schlatter, director of corporate communications at Knight Ridder, said on Friday that about 30% of The Sun-Herald’s 240 employees were still not accounted for.

The company is organizing a search for employees that resided in areas where no houses are left standing, she said.

An update released by Knight Ridder Thursday night reported that Columnist Jeanne Prescott lost her sister and brother-in-law in the storm. ?No word yet on other family losses,” the release said.

As part of the relief effort, Knight Ridder has set up an employee hotline at 1-800-346-2472. The Sun-Herald wants to reach employees and urges them to call-in to provide information of their whereabouts and condition.

Schlatter said the hotline is seeing activity however; they have been receiving non-employee calls. ?Other people are calling that line,? she said. ?People are so desperate to call people.?

Additionally, over 14,000 messages have been posted on the Sun-Herald’s online message board (www.SunHerald.com) for victims of Hurricane Katrina since Wednesday Aug. 31.

Knight Ridder executives and staff have been pulled from all over the country to help the Sun-Herald continue to publish. Bryan Monroe, vice president of news at Knight Ridder, told E&P through a satellite phone, that about 30 reporters and staff — like accountants and human resource managers — have traveled to Biloxi from San Jose, Calif., Philadelphia, Miami, not to mention Columbus, Ga.

?We have been able to publish every day,? Monroe said. ?It’s an amazing story what’s happening here.?

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, a sister publication to the Sun-Herald, has been producing and printing the paper for the past the week (and foreseeable future.) However Schlatter said Knight Ridder received an offer from the Mobile (Ala.) Register — an Advance Publications-owned paper — to print the Sun-Herald there. ?We were really happy to have that offer,? she said, adding that corporate was weighing its options.

Indeed, the paper is ramping up its circulation. Today the Sun-Herald distributed 35,000 copies (yesterday they printed about 24,000 copies) of a 24-page paper with three pages of advertising. The paper plans to distribute 37,500 copies with five pages of advertising on Saturday and 40,000 copies on Sunday.

The paper is free and will be for some time.

Daily circulation at the Sun-Herald, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, is 47,984. Sunday circ is 55,845.

The Sun-Herald is starting to creep back to natural comforts. ?Things are starting to get better,? Schlatter said. Portable toilets, for one, arrived yesterday; until then, staffers were digging latrines. And the power situation is improving. The Sun-Herald is on the same grid as the Biloxi hospital. ?Power will solve a lot of our problems.?

Fuel is another challenge. The printing plant is in relatively good shape, said Knight Ridder Spokesman Polk Laffoon, but cannot run without fuel or water. Late yesterday evening, a fuel truck Knight Ridder hired had made it through to Biloxi but it was flagged down multiple times by people wanting to buy the cargo.

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