No snow day for the newspaper

It is the duty of daily newspapers to find ways to publish under even the most severe conditions.

Anna Weggel

I was sitting in my British literature lecture last Thursday when I noticed there were three missed calls on my cell phone, all from the same person.

When you’re the editor of a college newspaper, that’s usually a bad sign.

I raced up the seemingly endless sets of stairs in the Science Classroom Building to check my messages, each one revealing a bit more information about a possible school cancellation.

By 1:30 p.m. Thursday we had confirmation – verbal and from the University Web site – that classes were cancelled effective as of 2:30 p.m.

Although it seemed likely the University would extend the cancellation through Friday, the Daily publishers had a major decision to make. Do we publish a Friday paper?

Our publication calendar includes papers on every day the University has class, with the exception of summers in which we publish once each week.

Friday newspapers usually cost us $2,500, whereas the other days are $3,000 to $4,000.

Although Friday papers are cheaper, we also had our late-night staff’s safety to consider, as some stay as late as midnight.

In the end, we figured it would be better to run the risk of publishing a paper on a day that class gets cancelled than to have class and not have a Daily.

A bit of inspiration

Although we had already decided to publish the Friday paper, a columnist helped reaffirm the decision by pointing my attention to a newspaper that plowed through to publication under much more trying conditions.

In April 1997, the offices of The Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota were destroyed by flooding and a spreading fire. Despite the conditions, the paper continued to publish that day and all the rest, in print and online, through temporary locations at schools, computer labs and store buildings.

The newspaper submitted papers to be printed in St. Paul, had the copies flown back to Grand Forks and distributed free copies of the paper to evacuation centers.

The next year, The Grand Forks Herald received a Pulitzer Prize for public service.

The Grand Forks Herald is not the only paper that has battled nearly impossible conditions to get its paper out.

Last year, the Sun Herald in Biloxi-Gulfport, Miss. and The Times-Picayune in New Orleans won public service Pulitzers for their continuous coverage of Hurricane Katrina under exceptionally difficult conditions.

The trials of our snow day can hardly be compared to the trials these papers went through to publish their papers, but I believe their courage can be applied to cases like ours.

Last Thursday as my gaze switched between our soaked photographers and the sideways snow out the window, I knew it wasn’t as if our offices were destroyed by fire or natural disaster.

But it’s my hope and my goal that even if they were, you’d still be reading your Daily.

Anna Weggel is the Daily’s Editor in Chief. She welcomes comments at [email protected]