By: Joe Strupp
Sunday saw two milestones for the hurricane-ravaged Sun Herald in Gulfport, Miss. It was the first time since Hurricane Katrina barreled through the area that the entire newspaper was created on site, while also marking the largest press run ever in the daily’s 121-year history: 80,000 copies.
But lest you think life has returned to normal for the usually 46,000-daily circulation paper, think again. Editor Stan Tiner says at least 41 staffers have had their homes destroyed, including 11 newsroom employees; some 20 recreational vehicles are still parked outside the paper to house displaced workers; and a counselor brought in to help people through the trauma is seeing about 20 to 30 people a day.
“Most of our people are here and working,” said Tiner, who rode out the storm from his home about 10 miles north of the paper’s headquarters, but has remained on the job the entire time. “We have some people who are taking a day down for the first time.”
Tiner said the paper’s staff takes pride on not missing a single day’s edition, a streak that he contends reaches as far back as 1884, the year the paper put out its first issue.
He also noted that the paper has not been collecting payment for single-copy distribution since the hurricane struck.
But while the paper has been able to keep going, Tiner said the devastation of the area and the emotional impact on people is the most serious he’s ever seen. He said it was worse than what he saw as a Marine during 13 months in Vietnam between 1965 and 1966. “It is on a scale that overwhelms you,” Tiner noted about the local impact. “The scale of this is so much bigger.”
Tiner also compared the emotional toll the hurricane has taken on people with the tension, fear, and worries that soldiers in combat endured.
As the hurricane drew closer on the night of Sunday, Aug. 28, the Sun Herald published its Aug. 29 edition a day early, while delaying publication of the Aug. 30 edition until late afternoon.
“We had a plan to get the paper out and there was a lot of pride in getting it out,” he said. “When the paper was delivered and people saw it, it was proof we were still functioning.” Tiner credited the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer, a fellow Knight Ridder paper, with making the publications possible. The Columbus paper opened its doors to Sun Herald staffers the day of the hurricane, allowing them to layout and print the Aug. 30 paper, and each day’s edition thereafter.
“They had to forego their high school football coverage on the Friday night after the hurricane so they could help us,” Timer recalls. “They held it off until Sunday. That means a lot in a place like Georgia.”
Meanwhile, back in Gulfport and neighboring Biloxi, distributing the paper was another challenge. Although copies were getting to the area, delivery began at a trickle, with staffers pitching in as carriers in many cases. “I’ve taken them out to people in my neighborhood and places where people gather,” Tiner said. “Everyone on staff has done a little of that.” After his daughter-in-law passed some copies around her neighborhood, groups of local women began gathering at her house to read the copies.
On Sept. 1, three days after the hurricane struck, Joyce Aron, a Jackson, Miss.-based counselor Knight Ridder hired, began offering emotional support to the paper’s staff. She said she started off sleeping on a conference room floor, then later switched to an RV her husband brought down.
“They offered me an RV when I first arrived, but there were so many families needing them for housing, it was no problem for me, I brought some bedding,” Aron told E&P. Aron’s husband, a retired emergency room physician, pitched in to help treat Herald staffers with medical problems.
“He was able to fill a need facing people who were exhausted and sleep deprived,” she said, noting that many people endured “excessive stress and the inability to process all of the issues involved.” Aron said she has treated at least 120 people, while her husband has treated about 80 so far. The couple plans to remain on site until Thursday.
“We have been very proactive in selling it,” Tiner said about the services the Aron couple has been giving. “It is normal for people to have troubles and troubled feelings from this.”