IOWA DERECHO 2020

Publishing a newspaper in the middle of a disaster

Editors and reporters work in a temporary newsroom space at Color Web in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. After t
Editors and reporters work in a temporary newsroom space at Color Web in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. After the derecho storm on Monday, Aug. 10, left us all without power, The Gazette staff assembled at Color Web, the printing facility that contains The Gazette printing press, which was kept operational by diesel-powered generators. A centralized mess of cables had allowed staff members to remain connected to servers and produce content for Wednesday’s paper despite a lack of internet and cellphone service or electricity elsewhere in the city. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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This week’s shutter in place is not about photo tips and it most certainly isn’t something I suggest anyone attempt on their own.

I’m not sure how or why you would.

Since the derecho storm hit on Aug. 10, we’ve all been adapting. Some had power back in a matter of hours, some watched the one-week mark come and go without electricity in our homes.

For me and much of the staff at The Gazette, adapting meant checking on ourselves, our loved ones, perhaps our homes if lucky and then finding a way to get the story out.

I was on the side of Interstate 380 waiting out the end of the storm and seeing emails come through where reporters and editors were collecting information and any possible detail of what had just happened to our community.

We had begun.

I made it home, sent a few photos and searched for more before finally going to bed with no electricity for the first of many nights and no more communication with colleagues, family or friends.

The following morning, I woke up and headed to Color Web Printers, our established base with generator power allowing us to charge dead laptops, camera batteries and phones.

I watched as my colleagues worked away looking for any and all solutions to get the paper out. The process evolved and devolved as circumstances changed. At one point, reporters were transferring stories between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City on flash drives and photos became their own struggle. The process wasn’t fast nor practical, but was working.

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After editing Monday evening’s photos I took off to find more as the sun began to set. While out, I was told everything our team had pieced together for network connection had crashed and that our full team of editors had been moved to be an Ethernet cable’s length from the servers at the edge of Color Web’s printing floor. I returned in a hurry, expecting to find desperation and chaos. Driving back, I really started to believe we might not get a paper out the door.

I ran in and found our copy chief to ask what was needed and how soon — perhaps riding a small dose of adrenaline — but was met with an even calmer than usual response. No rush, no panic. Our team of nightside editors appeared to be calmly plucking away at their new work stations, almost as if we were back in our pre-coronavirus newsroom. Removed from the sounds of the printing press floor and the warehouse walls around them — it’d have looked to me like a normal night at the paper. Just like The Gazette has done in one way or another for more than 130 years — an incredible moment.

There are many more details to tell. Others on our staff could write copy in the hundreds of column inches to explain how the heck the paper got out those first couple nights and maybe someone who knows those many more details of the story will eventually do just that. But for now, I hope you see a glimpse of the unrelenting dedication I saw.

The Gazette staff simply wanted to get the news out to readers. I’m honored to be a part of it and I appreciate my colleagues more now than ever. I hope you will, too.

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Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.