Midwest newspapers' snow job p.10

By: Mark Fitzgerald Midwestern newspapers had plenty of warning about the record-setting blizzard that arrived New Year's weekend. Unfortunately, it was the same kind of advance notice Muhammad Ali gave opponents before knocking them out.
"When you get that much snow, when the roads are whited out and the plows cover up the delivery tubes, there isn't much planning you can do for that," says Robert Titone, circulation manager for The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill. "You learn the lessons ? and then hope you don't have to use them for another 20 years."
The Journal-Register faced two big problems in the blizzard: The gale-strength winds and 12-plus inches of snow overwhelmed public services use to the mild winters of central Illinois, and the newspaper depends on a mostly youth carrier force. Even adults had a hard time in the storm. "We finally just called our drivers back Saturday night because we didn't feel it was safe out there," Titone says.
Forecasters had been predicting the storm for nearly a week, but its fury blunted many of the preparations newspapers took. By the time the storm hit Chicago, it had intensified into the third-worst blizzard of the century and dumped more snow than the region had ever experienced in a single day.
"Because we knew we would have a problem getting people to the distribution centers, we reserved a bloc of rooms in a motel within walking distance of Fleet Center and 28 drivers took advantage of the offer. As a result, we had perfect attendance ? among drivers anyway," says Mark Hornung, vice president of circulation for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Similarly, the Chicago Tribune took advantage of the long forecast period by hiring extra crews to plow its distribution centers, and it called in extra drivers in anticipation that some regular drivers would be stuck at home, says Vincent Casanova, the paper's vice president/ circulation and consumer marketing.
The Chicago dailies also both scheduled smaller single-copy draws and consolidated some editions in an effort to get the papers off the press faster.
Both papers soon discovered that it is one thing to get papers to a distribution center in the middle of a blizzard ? it is another thing to get those papers to the houses and apartment buildings along unplowed streets.
"The trickiest part of the whole operation was the actual home delivery," Casanova says. "We had hundreds and hundreds of down routes. Saturday we finished about 9 a.m. Normally, that would be 6:30 a.m. And on Sunday, some routes were not
finished until 2 p.m."
Some 20,000 to 30,000 customers were missed on Sunday and received their papers on Monday or, in some far reaches of the circulation area, Tuesday, he says. The Tribune's Sunday circulation is about 1,019,000.
"Our agency [carriers] were hit-and-miss," the Sun-Times' Hornung says.
"We felt we got 50% of routes delivered. Everybody will get a Sunday paper. We're bundling them in with the normal Monday papers."
Staff absences hurt most in the customer service area, where about a third of
telephone operators were not able to come to work, Hornung says.
In the Chicago suburbs, the Daily Herald was unable to keep its distribution centers clear, despite the snow blowers workers brought from home. Drivers unloaded trucks by hand rather than by skids.
"I drafted a memo to our circulation staff that said, 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going ? and that was the epitome of your response to the blizzard of '99,'" says vice president of circulation James J. Galetano.
In Detroit ? where the storm dumped the most snow the area had seen for half a decade ? the production agency for the Free Press and News set slightly earlier press schedules and consolidated some editions. All papers arrived on time at the 30 distribution centers, despite the storm, says Susie Ellwood, vice president of market development for Detroit Newspapers.
"It's been a tough go," Ellwood says. "We didn't do anything really out of the ordinary. ? Just try to put the papers in orange and yellow wrappers so people can find them in all the snow."
While the Midwest newspapers were catching their breath Monday, the storm rolled into Buffalo, closing roads and the airport.
"It was a major storm, no doubt, and it's still coming. We're getting pummeled as we speak," assistant circulation director Dominick Bordonaro says in a phone
interview Tuesday. "We have 3,500 youth carriers and 500 independent carriers and the ? vast majority of them got out. At last count, just 41 routes were not completed, mostly because of the driving bans.
"But in Buffalo," he adds, "this is business as usual. It's nothing new to us.
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