By: John Sullivan
THE complexities of running a daily newspaper can only be overshadowed by one big factor ? if your building is gone. And in the case of the Grand Forks Herald, the raging floodwaters from the Red River that struck this quiet North Dakota town has made “getting the news out” more important than ever before.
Fortunately, the Herald had something that almost none of the other water-damaged Grand Forks’ businesses had ? a parent company to help them out. And Miami-based Knight-Ridder wasted no time in helping out its employees.
“Knight-Ridder has been awesome in putting all of the necessary resources together,” said Herald president and publisher Mike Maidenburg. “We could not have done it without them, and [Knight-Ridder] have pledged they would [continue to] be here for us.”
Polk Laffoon, Knight-Ridder’s vice president of corporate relations, said that when the dikes broke on Friday, April 18, as the river rose 26 feet above the 28-foot flood stage, the employees that remained behind to get the paper out were told that they had only 15 minutes to evacuate the building.
“In a short time, the reelroom, in the basement, and advertising, circulation and the pressroom ? all on the first floor ? were under four to eight feet of water,” Laffoon related.
Knight-Ridder, which owns the building, had recently spent approximately $3 million on renovations.
Before the flood water arrived, 10,000 copies of Saturday’s paper had come off the presses. According to the newspaper’s general manager Bob Kerr, a few people even received the paper on their doorstep before the floods arrived.
On Saturday, a fire that broke out in a downtown Grand Forks building, eventually spread to the Herald’s, destroying its newsroom, photo archives, and business offices. Two of the three Herald buildings were gutted. The original building was left standing but damaged.
Maidenburg said he was able to take a boat up and look inside to the second floor of the original Heraldbuilding, which housed the computer systems that contained vital records for the newspaper.
But Maidenburg is “keeping his fingers crossed” because he is not sure about the extent of residual damage, such as smoke, that occurred while fighting the fire.
Nonetheless, the paper, which has not missed a day since 1879, continued to print. On Saturday and Sunday, the Herald produced 12-page editions working out of the University of North Dakota ? until the school had to be evacuated as well.
The newsroom operations then moved to a grammar school in Manvel, N.D. There, reporters and editors from the Herald put out the paper using computers that had been setup in a classroom.
Stories were sent from Grand Forks via the Internet to the newsroom of another Knight-Ridder newspaper, the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press, some 300 miles away, where Herald editors and copy editors put the paper together.
The Pioneer Press production staff printed the newspaper and copies ? initially void of advertising ? were then flown to the Grand Forks area and distributed at no cost to all Herald residents, scattered at various emergency shelters in surrounding communities.
Grand Forks residents have since been using the newspaper as an information tool to find out where they can get immediate help.
In addition to news about the flooding, the newspapers have been filled with articles detailing how to cope with the crisis.
Although the Herald employees are not missing a beat in getting the paper to its news-starved readers, they are victims as well and have to deal with the same issues the rest of the town is facing.
“It’s amazing how many people can do so much,” said Maidenburg. “There are so many things that go into putting a newspaper out you take for granted ? like getting your own people fed.”
A Shining Knight (-Ridder)
Knight-Ridder decided early on that the company, with 24,000 employees worldwide and 34 daily newspapers, would approach this disaster situation like it did when Hurricane Andrew struck the Miami area in 1992. The first step was to get the individuals who could offer immediate help out there quickly. People like Bill Wilson, the logistics specialist during Hurricane Andrew, have been instrumental in working with the ongoing problems the Herald and its employees are experiencing.
As for the other Knight-Ridder paper, the Pioneer Press, the task of producing two papers has been difficult at times, but not without its benefits.
“These have been the most rewarding weeks I have ever experienced,” said Pioneer Press editor Walker Lundy. “Even with the difference in computer systems, we were determined that the Herald would publish.”
Lundy explained that the Herald started out with 12 pages (including one page of sports and one page of national/international news), and then expanded to 16 pages on Thursday, April 24, with two pages of advertising. Currently, there are six to eight ad pages daily and 18 ad pages ran in the Sunday May 4 issue.
By April 21, according to a report in the Pioneer Press, some 70,000 copies were being published and distributed. The Herald usually publishes just under 40,000.
Although the Herald is actively looking for another printing site, Lundy said “we’ll do it as long as it takes. The Herald will come out everyday.”
Although many people at the Herald are devoted to their jobs, especially in a time of crisis, the fact remains that the balance between work and home is going to be difficult for many months to come.
“We’re trying to look like a regular newspaper covering news other than the flood,” said Herald managing editor Jim Durkin. “But 90% of our staff lived in the Grand Forks area and have personal tragedies to attend to as well. Just finding a place to sleep is a priority.”
Since many of the Grand Forks residents are having to deal with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the other agencies assigned to disaster situations, being a Knight-Ridder employee via the Herald definitely has its advantages.
Laffoon stated that all Herald employees are getting paid, regardless of their work situation, and will help in assisting all employees whose homes were damaged.
President Clinton, who surveyed the damage on Tuesday, April 22, pledged a $488 million federal relief package and wants FEMA to pick up 100% of the cost.
But it has not been easy to notify all of the scattered Herald employees about every situation.
“We are trying to help our employees as much as possible,” said Lee Ann Schlatter, Knight Ridder’s director of corporate communications, “but it’s been tough reigning all of them in.”
Schlatter explained that the company has announced a tax-deductible contributing fund for Herald employees, which was kicked off by corporate with a $100,000 donation. Knight-Ridder has also set up a guaranteed loan program, lending employees up to $7,500 on signature only, with the interest rate based on the current prime rate.
As life experiences go, some Knight-Ridder employees are learning first-hand on the difference between deadline pressure at a newspaper and a crisis.
“It’s pretty incredible,” says Dominic Papatola, an arts writer for the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune. As one of many employees sent by Knight-Ridder to assist and/or relieve the exhausted Herald workers, Papatola is happy he’s part of the solution but is amazed about how well everything is working, considering what they all have been through.
“People sleep anywhere,” he said. “And every morning, the paper comes out and they’ve done it again. In a way, I almost hate to leave.”
Durkin also admitted that through this difficult time, “I’ve learned a lot from other [Knight-Ridder] people,” and has enjoyed the opportunity this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work side by side with some of the best in the industry.
Knight-Ridder’s chairman and CEO Tony Ridder said in a statement to employees that “we are committed to Grand Forks and the Herald is an important institution in the community, and I intend for the Herald to serve Grand Forks for a long time to come.”
With all the environmental, economic and emotional issues staring residents in the face, no one knows how quickly things will return to normal.
But as long as the Herald keeps coming out everyday, it will be the one sure thing the displaced residents will be able to count on.
The electronic version of the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald played a big role in getting out the news during the flood. See related story in page 26.
Flooded out Grand Forks
(N.D.) Herald keeps publishing with an assist from St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press and
?(The Grand Forks Herald building sits amidst flood waters) [Photo & Caption]
?(The Grand Forks Herald building (far right) was adjacent to a building that caught fire, which eventually spread to the Herald structure. In addition to the flooding, the fire destroyed the newspapers newsroom, photo archives and business offices) [Photo]
?(The Grand Forks Herald Refugee Bureau in the newsroom of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. From left, Grand Forks Herald employees Jeff Beach, copy editor; Brad Dokken, copy editor; Kris Jensen, story coordinator; St. Paul Pioneer Press employees Judy Arginteanu (partially blocked copy editor and Doug Belden, copy editor; and Grand Forks Herald copy editor Andy Gradford.) [Photo & Caption]
?(The electronic version of the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald played a big role in getting out the news during the flood. See related story in page 26) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher, May 10, 1997)