By: David Noack
For the three daily newspapers that cover the mid-Hudson
Valley of New York, the festival was the culmination of
military-style planning, preparation and coordination sp.
THERE WAS MOSHING, mud and music.
It was that kind of celebration as more than 350,000 people crowded into the 840-acre Winston Farm in Saugerties, N.Y., to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock music festival.
For the three daily newspapers that cover the mid-Hudson Valley of New York, the festival was the culmination of military-style planning, preparation and coordination, combined with a case of d?j? vu.
The Middletown Times Herald Record, Poughkeepsie Journal and Kingston Daily Freeman had, for the better part of the year, mapped their strategies for covering the Woodstock concert, which took place the weekend of Aug. 12.
The planning paid off. While things did not go off seamlessly, they were far better than expected amid the crowd, chaos, confusion and inclement weather.
Over the course of the weekend of nonstop partying, the papers provided saturation coverage, chronicling the events in hundreds of thousands of words, thousands of column inches and hundreds of photographs. The coverage was exhaustive in approach, style and content, with reporters, editors and photographers working around the clock.
To be sure, there were some glitches along the way ? almost expected ? in setting up makeshift newsrooms, keeping track of reporters and hoping that technology worked the way it was supposed to.
Reporters in the muddy fields kept in touch with editors via two-way radios, beepers and cellular telephones. They also used the old standby ? meeting in designated spots. Temporary newsrooms were established in rented houses, recreational vehicles and tents near the concert site.
But long before news organizations from around the world flooded the media outpost at the concert, the Woodstock festival was news. It had been a running story for almost a year, with dramatic and unexpected twists and turns.
In the few months prior there was even the promise of dueling concerts ? the “official” one in Saugerties and a much smaller version in Bethel, the site of the original Woodstock in 1969. But poor ticket sales doomed the smaller event, though there was still an impromptu concert in Bethel.
The scope of the anniversary festival was such that almost overnight a brand new city appeared with a population larger than most of the surrounding counties ? and with all the problems that creates.
The impact of the concert rippled through the region. Sites chosen as designated parking areas for concertgoers became campsites. Many ticket holders could not get to the campsite, while others without tickets got in. There was not supposed to be alcohol and drugs, either.
But things didn’t go quite as planned for the organizers of the festival, Woodstock Ventures. They vowed that this event would be different from the last free-for-all. They tried to maintain control of ticket sales, security and traffic, coordinating efforts with local and state officials.
In the weeks before the festival, the newspapers produced commemorative editions and special sections, replete with stories reminiscing about the original festival, recapping events related to the upcoming concert, and trying to anticipate and prepare readers for what was about to happen. The sections were also filled with maps, key telephone numbers and other useful information.
The Times Herald Record produced a 64-page edition, the Daily Freeman a 56-page one. The Journal ran a 12-page section, in addition to a 27-page “Guide for goers . . . and no-goers” and a 12-page 25th anniversary edition.
Editors stressed that planning was crucial in deciding what issues had to be covered. Reporters were assigned beats ? security, performances, transportation, economy ? but they were given enough flexibility to report the unpredictable and unexpected.
“A little tired, but it went very well,” said Journal managing editor Derek Osenenko the day after Woodstock.
The Journal joined forces with other Gannett papers, including the Democrat and Union in Rochester, N.Y., Cincinnati Enquirer and USA Today.
“The Journal had eight people specifically stationed up near the site,” Osenenko said. “Their responsibility was to cover the festival and the impact on the immediate area around it. So we had a total of 15, and then USA Today also sent some additional people. We rented a home about half a mile from the site and set up a makeshift field newsroom.”
Technical glitches occurred the first night of the festival when staff tried to send photos back to the main office in Poughkeepsie, but the problem was worked out.
Planning helped the paper deal with the information overload.
“The planning gave us a structure, a momentum, but it did not restrict us from being flexible to cover breaking news,” Osenenko said. “We structured the coverage to capture the tone of each day.”
As copy came in throughout each day, decisions were made as to where stories would appear in a four-page special section that wrapped around the main section of the paper.
“Throughout the day, we kept refining and developing our story budget,” Osenenko said. “The first day we did a daily wrap, which went around the newspaper. The front page would be dedicated to the high profile news of the day, the second page to music, the third page to people and the fourth page to crime and safety issues.”
He said a small team covered the last-minute concert in Bethel, even though the event had officially been canceled about two weeks earlier. The concert took on a life of its own ? roughly 40,000 people attended.
“The important mission now is going to be, as soon as it becomes possible to do this and appropriate to do this, to put the event in perspective,” Osenenko said. “You don’t want to write history before time has passed, but I think a good deal of the focus will be analysis and commentary.”
Sam Dalco, managing editor of the Daily Freeman, a member of the Goodson Newspaper Group, said organization and preparation paid off.
“We were in good shape,” he said. “We had electricity, we had air conditioning, and most of the time we were able to get our people back in and off the field to where the RV was parked and filed stories from there.” The RV was located in the VIP parking lot, about two miles from the concert site.
On the first day of the concert, Dalco said, cellular phones reporters were using went dead because the batteries were drained. That was remedied the second day, as users were instructed to turn on their phones at designated times.
At the festival, eight Daily Freeman staffers were set up in the RV. A correspondent covered events in Bethel and six other reporters worked out of the main office in Kingston covering a variety of off-site events.
Dalco said he and his staff even had a bicycle on hand at the temporary newsroom and were prepared to use pedal power to get film to the Kingston office in case traffic was at a standstill.
“We looked at this festival as a city and covered it like we would a city,” he said. “We had this gut feeling all along through the months and months of planning this thing that this was going to turn out to be chaos.
“The promoters kept saying, ‘That’s not going to happen; it’s going to be organized. It’s not going to be a repeat of Bethel.’ And in fact, it was, except that the Thruway didn’t close and they kept the roads pretty clear. When we got there Thursday, it appeared it was going to be a pretty laid-back weekend.”
But as the crowd started to swell on Friday and Saturday, there was a sense of apprehension and anxiety, Dalco observed.
“At one point they wouldn’t even let me into the field,” he said. “They were concerned about not being able to get ambulances in. People were being injured and passing out, collapsing for one reason or another. It got a little scary. I got a little nervous myself. I think it’s a miracle we got through the weekend. There was so much mud it was unbelievable.”
He said a big concern was whether people who did not purchase concert tickets ? which sold for $135 each ? would show up and simply try to crash the gate.
Jeff Storey, managing editor of the Times Herald Record, an Ottaway newspaper, said that while there were some problems, the coverage that was provided by two dozen reporters and four photographers gave readers a comprehensive look at what it was like to be there.
“There were a lot of glitches, setting up an entire newspaper operation within a week,” Storey said. “Generally speaking, we did a lot of planning, spent a lot of time on it, and it worked pretty well. I think we gave people a pretty good picture of what was going on.”
The Record’s home away from home consisted of an RV and a few big tents.
“We rented a developing lab to get this stuff developed there and we bought and rented new equipment and scanned the film right there and sent it back to Middletown,” Storey said.
A main story each day covered the big events and overall mood of the festival, but it was decided to also produce special pullout sections on Saturday, Sunday and Monday that averaged 15 pages.
Storey said he and his colleagues wanted to keep the paper open for other stories and at the same time allow those readers interested in Woodstock news to get all they wanted in the pullouts.
“We were operating under the assumption that a lot of our readers ? and we’re a multiedition newspaper ? were totally fed up with Woodstock, and we figured it would be better to separate the bulk of the Woodstock news,” he said.
Despite the exhaustive coverage, Storey said, there were some stories he would have liked to have seen covered ? such as a piece on media coverage of the festival.
?( Noack is a free-lance writer) [Caption]