April 08, 2020

Luck, planning pay off > NEWS publishes despite ice storm

BANGOR — It was 7 p.m. Thursday. Across the Penobscot River, the blue flashes of arcing power lines lit up blacked-out Brewer. We sat, frustrated, not discouraged, in total darkness in the newsroom on the second floor. Sleet continued to crackle on the windows. There had been no electricity since 4 o’clock. Without electricity, there would be no Friday paper.

That there was a Friday paper — 12,000 copies were printed at the Bangor Daily News’ Hampden plant in the early hours of the morning — was due to a rare collaboration between luck and planning, and also to a series of personal triumphs: the perseverance of individual NEWS employees in Bangor and Hampden over the consequences of the worst ice storm in modern memory.

At around 11 a.m. Thursday, bracing for the brunt of the storm and anticipating power outages, the NEWS decided to push for one of its earliest deadlines in history, 5:30 p.m. for news and photos. Photos would be in black and white. To save time: no color. The objective was to beat the ice by publishing early, loading papers aboard trucks and shipping the news north and east over slippery roads to Madawaska and Calais in time for morning delivery.

So much for plans. The power went down early in the afternoon, and stayed down for an hour and a half. Stories were written on laptops while Bangor Hydro-Electric isolated the problem. Idled staffers recalled the 1962-63 New Year’s storm that dumped 3 to 4 feet of snow on Bangor. The city was paralyzed. The NEWS printed newspapers that day, but couldn’t get them out of the building and no one could get to the NEWS offices to get one.

When the lights came on Thursday afternoon, computers were rebooted, the staff pulled together storm-related news from 11 NEWS bureaus in northeastern Maine, sections were paginated. The staff was on a roll.

At 4 p.m., the Bangor and Hampden locations went dark.

Three hours later, batteries exhausted in emergency lights, forms moved cautiously around the newsroom. By 8 p.m., the power came on in Hampden. It was useless, however, without electricity in Bangor. At 8:45 it was time to pull the plug. No paper Friday, we told the staff. People started for the door in Hampden and Bangor. As the bad news was being conveyed to Publisher Richard J. Warren, the lights suddenly popped on. “What do you want to do?” asked the publisher. “Let’s put out a newspaper,” was the reply.

Over the next few hours, there were occasional flickers, but the power held. Hampden went dark again, but Bangor finished its work by 11 p.m. and passed its product to Hampden. The production facility began a vigil. Hydro restored power there around midnight. By 1:30 a.m., 12,000 copies with the banner of “MAINE ICED IN” had been run off the press. They were delivered to the NEWS office on Main Street, supermarkets and convenience stores in Bangor.

NEWS management made the decision to limit the production run. There would be no attempt at home delivery, motor routes or to supply dealerships. The risk from downed power lines and icy roads was too great to send drivers and Sunrisers into harm’s way. Subscribers will be credited for the paper they missed.

Cars lined Buck Street on Friday while readers ran inside to get their copy of the Jan. 9, 1998, NEWS. By 11 a.m., the papers were gone, some of them distributed by the publisher who stood in the lobby and personally handed them out, free. It was an opportunity to share with readers an accomplishment produced by a determined staff: the Friday paper that almost wasn’t.

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