By: Jim Rosenberg
Newspaper printing plants got through the Los Angeles
temblor without catastrophic damage, but some dailies were
forced to shift temporarily to alternative production sites sp.
FIVE NEWSPAPER PRINTING plants, some very near the epicenter of the earthquake that awakened Southern California in the early hours of Jan. 17, survived without catastrophic damage.
However, all closed temporarily, moving production to other sites. After all restarted their presses within a day or two, production resumed at four plants and a fifth continued press testing.
Production-distribution burdens at the Los Angeles Times’ Valley plant in Chatsworth were absorbed by the paper’s downtown Olympic and Orange County plants.
About five miles south of Chats-worth and about the same distance from the quake’s epicenter, the headquarters of the Los Angeles Daily News was forced to shut down ad sales, newsroom and prepress operations. Closed too was the Daily News’ four-year-old printing plant in Valencia, about 10 miles north by microwave link.
A few miles north of the epicenter and but a mile east of Valencia, Morris Newspapers’ Santa Clarita Signal was back on its presses the night of Jan. 18, after publishing its edition that day at the Antelope Valley Press, 36 miles northeast in Palmdale.
Just across the county line, the Easy Street address of the Simi Valley Enterprise didn’t live up to its name. The area was hard hit, and though the paper is printed a few miles away at the Thousand Oaks News-Chronicle, the otherwise-unharmed plant there lost power.
“We were wiped out,” News-Chronicle editor Terry Greenberg said. “Our backup plan is to go to Ventura. Ventura’s backup plan is to come here,” he said. But the Star-Free Press, Ventura, and the group’s dailies in Camarillo and Oxnard also lost power.
Staff began arriving at the News-Chronicle about 5 a.m. Jan. 17, half an hour after the quake struck. Alone there when the quake occurred was managing editor DeAnn Wahl, who Greenberg said “usually comes in very early to get things started” and was “scared to death.”
As soon as staffers walked in, they were handed pads and told to go out and report on the disaster. Some were dispatched 20 miles to the Enterprise, which could not be reached by phone. With power out until about 1:30 p.m., returning reporters wrote on battery-powered laptop computers.
When group management decided to print at the San Luis Obispo Tele-gram-Tribune, copy could not be sent there by modem from Thousand Oaks. Greenberg said a group of staffers called up material on their TRS-80s, selected bits and pieces of copy for use, and read them to Wahl, who composed a story in longhand by the light of a camp lantern.
When staffers in Ventura got through to those in Thousand Oaks by phone, Greenberg dictated the story to a staffer working by candlelight. From Ventura, local copy and that from Thousand Oaks was dictated to the Telegram-Tribune. Later, modem communication with the San Luis Obispo building was possible, said Star-Free Press editor John Irby (also the group’s editor).
“We didn’t have a plan,” he said. “Like everyone else, we’re working on a plan now.”
The Star-Free Press sent six newsroom staffers on a two-hour ride to San Luis Obispo at 10:15 a.m. Stories were sent ahead by voice and modem for a 12:30 p.m. deadline for an Extra that day. “We rented a plane and flew the Extra back that afternoon,” Irby said. The four-page section was in news racks countywide by 6 p.m.
“We were using Radio Shack [TRS-80s] here . . . with what looked like jumper cables going out to the car batteries,” Irby said. More staffers went to San Luis Obispo to work on the Jan. 18 edition. Power was restored by 3 p.m., but because the utility warned that it might be lost again and with other arrangements in effect, he said, the decision was made to print the edition there.
Nine rented trucks carried back the Jan. 18 Extra, which consisted of about 20 pages in two sections. Greenberg said it “was delivered to most homes in the county Tuesday morning,” surprising readers unaccustomed to receiving a morning edition.
In all, Irby said, about 30 newsroom staffers and 15 to 20 production staffers made the trip up the coast. Operations director Bill Williamson was the last to return from San Luis Obispo, at 9 a.m. Jan. 18.
With power reliably restored and the press checked, the News-Chronicle was able to print an afternoon Extra, which was delivered to homes in eastern Ventura County and to west-county news racks. A normal production schedule was resumed Jan. 19.
“A mess . . . it looked like a bomb went off” was Signal production director Don Pitts’ description of his building. Leaking natural gas was the immediate reason for an evacuation, but with computer terminals littering the floor, no power and telephone lines down, the 11,000-circulation paper had to move operations up the highway to Palmdale.
Before operations in Santa Clarita could resume the next day, Pitts, whose nearby home fared better than the paper, faced the task of getting everything running again and checking damaged newsprint. Two days after the quake, he said, the biggest losses seemed to be the six or so monitors that hit the floor, although the Macintosh-based system survived.
The platemaking “camera pulled out of the wall and moved about a foot, and the processors also shifted,” Pitts said. And though the big pressroom lights “came crashing down,” “our press seems to be fine ? we printed last night,” he added.
The Jan. 19 paper was an abbreviated, 12-page edition. The earthquake disrupted personnel as well as production systems, though Pitts said the paper managed to work around staffers’ needs to restore some order to their homes and lives.
Daily News management could not be contacted immediately, but those who helped publish it during the worst, first days were able to outline its operations. Star-News publisher Thomas Culligan drove to Woodland Hills to find the inside of the Daily News building “a shambles.” The structure, however, was intact; the area’s highways were not.
From there, Culligan made his way south past the Santa Monica Mountains to the offices of Copley Los Angeles Newspapers’ Santa Monica Outlook, where he found Daily News editor Robert Burdick and his staff working out of an improvised newsroom.
Punctuated by a 5.5-magnitude aftershock that rocked the building, discussions with Burdick resulted in a temporary Daily News advertising sales office in San Gabriel Valley Tribune Inc.’s Pasadena headquarters and an editorial operation at its West Covina facility.
The 12-page Jan. 18 Daily News was printed without advertising by Copley Los Angeles Newspapers in Torrance from copy supplied by staffers in Santa Monica. Culligan said he was told that the Daily News managed to reach “at least 85% of home subscribers” the day after the quake.
Printing switched to Pasadena that night, when a 24-page Jan. 19 edition was published with a deadline several hours later and with sufficient space for advertising by picking up the world news and sports sections of the San Gabriel Valley Daily Tribune.
“We were able to just replate the pages they needed,” Culligan said. “We kept the sizes the same [and] just started running them early, around 10 o’clock in the evening. We got all 225,000 copies off and continued running our own on the other parts of the press.” Copies were delivered to Woodland Hills for distribution.
Ads dropped into the borrowed sections (which had some Daily News copy) included insurance companies’ messages and information from two supermarket chains, listing stores that were open and their cooperative relief effort for people without food.
The Daily News reportedly was able to resume printing on its presses in Valencia the night of Jan. 19. Its 48-page Jan. 20 edition was the product of prepress work at Pasadena; page negatives were flown by helicopter from there to Valencia, Culligan said.
The Times’ Valley plant sustained some structural damage but is safe, spokeswoman Laura Morgan said. Cleanup began last week as damage was assessed.
With press testing and evaluation in Chatsworth in progress, Morgan said, the equipment there seemed to be “in good shape.”
While the plant was “not fully operational,” she said three days after the quake that “a few of the presses are actually printing . . . nondeadline material” in short runs while the paper’s 1.1 million-plus-circulation was printed at its two other plants.
Morgan also reported that distribution was a success, with “only about 850 papers that could not be delivered” throughout the entire market area.
No deaths or serious injuries among newspaper workers were reported. Times staffers sustained no injuries of note, Morgan added.
Culligan knew of only relatively minor injuries, some requiring stitches or other medical attention, “but nothing that would have kept them in a hospital bed for a while.”
Many suffered great material losses, including houses and apartments. Some at Ventura County Newspapers were not heard from for a day or two, Greenberg said.
A sportswriter living in Northridge, site of the epicenter, showed up before 6 a.m. Jan. 17. “He just got the hell out of there,” Greenberg said. “His apartment was trashed . . . . His way of dealing with it was to get here and do something.”
The editor gave him a laptop and asked for a first-person account.
In addition to a company employee assistance program offering counseling or just a chance to talk, Greenberg said the Thousand Oaks building temporarily is storing some employees’ possessions and the paper hopes to set up a program to match the material needs of some with what others can give or lend.