By: Joe Strupp
Contigency Plans Were In Place
John Walter wasn’t hoping the world would blow up when 1999 turned into 2000. But the managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said his staff was ready just in case.
Like many of the nation’s daily newspapers, the Journal-Constitution had assigned hundreds of extra reporters and editors to New Year’s Eve duty on the chance that the dreaded Y2K bug, potential terrorism, or some other millennium event would spark the need for more coverage.
“Was there a letdown with not too much to cover? Yes!” Walter said Monday. “But we had people assigned to cover both the Y2K celebrations and the possible computer glitches. We just modified it as we went along.”
Walter said 300 of his newspaper’s 500 editorial workers were on the job at midnight New Year’s Eve, a far cry from the usual 50 staffers who would normally cover the incoming new year. He said the paper produced its regular edition with a regular 12:45 a.m. press run that offered coverage of local and international New Year’s events, but none of the catastrophic, computer problem stories that had been predicted by some.
“Eventually, we began peeling a few people off after midnight,” said Walter. “Everybody had things to do and phone calls to make, but it was smoother than most holidays.”
The Atlanta experience was repeated at many other newspapers nationwide. In most cases, newspapers had contingency plans in place, including the assignment of extra staff, in case major problems or catastrophes occurred. For many the beefed up manpower turned out to be unnecessary.
“I think we needed it to make a credible report because the first thing people needed to know the next day was what happened and didn’t happen,” said Deanna Sands, managing editor of the Omaha (Neb.) World Herald, which assigned half of its 170 reporters and editors to work New Year’s Eve night. “We ended up putting everybody to work because the story became that there were no problems, so we covered it that way.”
For larger newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, the global enormity of the new millennium was a major story regardless of the Y2K computer factors, according to editors, who said they needed coverage of New Year’s celebrations from Shanghai to San Francisco no matter what else happened.
“There was nobody that we didn’t need because they were all doing things,” said Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr. “The Y2K story was still a story when things went well because there was so much going on around the world.”
At other newspapers, both large and small, the planning ranged from regular holiday skeletal crews to top-heavy scheduling of managers and editors available in case a crisis arose.
At The Union Leader in Manchester, N.H., only five of the newspaper’s 18 reporters were assigned to the midnight hour. But 10 extra managers and editors were on duty to make sure nothing went wrong, according to Patrick Sheeran, managing editor for operations.
“But none of it was necessary, it was seamless,” said Sheeran. “We thought there might be some problems, but we were happy there weren’t.”
Union Leader editors printed the newspaper earlier, at 11 p.m., to make sure copies would be available in the event of any Y2K glitches, Sheeran said. After midnight, a special eight-page section with New Year’s eve events and Y2K celebrations was published and placed in the regular paper, he said.
For some small papers, such as The Times Argus in Barre, Vt., the potential for Y2K problems meant nothing. Managing Editor Scott Fletcher said he planned coverage the same as if it were a regular New Year’s Eve, with one of his six reporters and one of his six editors working the late shift.
“We talked about doing an early press run, but we couldn’t justify it,” said Fletcher, who said the regular 12:30 a.m. deadline and 1:30 a.m. press run remained. “We had checked everything we could and were confident things would be fine.”
Joe Strupp ([email protected]) is an associate editor for Editor & Publisher magazine.