Indiana Papers Face Impasses, Delays to Cover Floods

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By: Joe Strupp

Days of flooding in southern Indiana have forced several newspapers to miss deliveries, put staffers up for the night in newsrooms, and wade through several feet of water to do their jobs.

Editors and circulation officials, who contend the rain-soaked area is in its worst natural disaster ever, say delivery problems have mounted due to roads closing and opening without warning, while news coverage has taken a blog form for some Web sites.

“We could not get into our offices on Saturday,” said Editor Scarlett Syse of the 17,000-circulation Daily Journal in Franklin, Ind. “So we sent someone in to collect laptops, Rolodexes, and digital cameras and set up in a Starbucks for a few hours.”

Syse said about seven staffers moved tables and plugged in computers at the coffee house in neighboring Center Grove. They were able to return to the newsroom late Saturday afternoon.

Although the paper has no Sunday edition, she said Web updates were the order of the day as the flooding grew on Saturday and has continued for days. While deliveries were mostly unaffected, Syse said her 21-person news staff has been going non-stop with coverage that expanded each day’s paper since by eight pages and forced the daily to kill its editorial and lifestyle pages on Monday and Tuesday.

“We had one staffer, a reporter who had to be rescued by boat [on Saturday] and her vehicle floated down a river,” Syse recalled. “It washed up on dry land and she came back to work on Monday.”

Other papers offered similar stories, with some seeing more delivery problems than coverage effects.

“No one around here has ever seen flooding like this. It is the 100-year storm you always hear about,” says Tim D. Smith, circulation director for The Herald-Times of Bloomington and the Reporter-Times of Martinsville. “We have had carriers wading up to their chests to deliver to racks, they are really troopers.”

Smith says the flooding began Saturday and by Sunday morning “Martinsville was completely socked in.” He said only about 25% of Martinsville subscribers received the paper “and very few of them got it before Sunday afternoon.”

Otherwise, both papers have averaged about 80% delivery success each day since Saturday, Smith said. “Different connections get flooded at different times,” he said. “It lowers in one place, but raises somewhere else. We can suddenly get into one, but can’t get into another.”

Smith said one of the Martinsville district managers who lives in Bloomington was stuck in Martinsville Saturday night, while two Bloomington adult carriers “lost everything … their homes, and their cars, but they are still delivering.”

Although the Martinsville paper relies on some 60 youth carriers for the afternoon paper’s deliveries, Smith said most of them have been on the job, although often waiting hours for copies. “They are out of school, so they have nothing else to do,” he joked.

On the positive side, Smith said single-copy sales have been up, adding that the combined single copy press run for both papers has increased by about 1,200 since Saturday. “We usually don?t have any copies left,” he said of the recent success.

On the news coverage side, Bloomington Managing Editor Andrea Murray said “one of the operative words is overtime, the other one is video and reader-submitted photos.”

East of Bloomington, in Columbus, Ind., The Republic saw five of its staffers spend Saturday night in the newspaper offices, including Editor Bob Gustin. “We have faced computer problems and a stretching of our staff,” he said about the 21,000-daily circulation paper. “A lot of people came in on their days off. We had a copy editor toning photos and our online editor, who was away visiting his sick mother, took over Web editing duties remotely.”

The Republic’s Sunday edition delivery was delayed, with 70% of the subscribers getting it late Sunday and the others on Monday, Gustin said.

But the paper saw the demand for coverage, publishing an eight-page special section on Monday. Free online and print classifieds also have been available for flooding-related needs.

“We have had a few employees whose homes are destroyed or pretty much affected,” Gustin said. “There were also a lot of people who couldn’t get to work.”

Then there is The Tribune-Star in Terre Haute, which published an editorial today essentially urging calm and asking residents to hang in there:

“When nature pays no heed to our needs or prayers, there is a tendency among weary and frustrated humans to look for someone to blame,” the editorial stated, in part. “Who didn?t fund fortification of this levee? Why wasn?t that combined sewer overflow system completed on time? What contractor signed off on this apartment complex design? How come that Realtor didn?t tell us we might live on a flood plain? Why did our neighbor cut down all those trees last year? And what the heck is the federal government doing? Understandable as such bad feelings may be, we can?t really afford them, at least until the forecast is for several days in a row of sunshine and cloudless skies.”

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