Fresh breath was more awesome than usual after I spent more than 48 hours straight in The Star’s newsroom, drinking bad coffee, sleeping (barely) in an old sleeping bag and, most importantly, working with this newspaper’s outstanding employees to deliver the news during last week’s snowstorm. To each and every one who pitched in last week, I offer a hearty salute.
While icy road conditions stranded many Alabamians, The Star’s editors and reporters ventured out into the bad weather to do our job: gather and report the news. For a few of us, that meant spending the night in The Star’s newsroom. Don’t get me wrong — that’s not exceptional. Countless public servants, business owners and good neighbors put themselves in similar positions.
Here’s why we did what we did: The Star is part of this community; when the community struggles and pulls together to help each other, so does this newspaper. That’s why we consider ourselves a public utility, a necessary resource for a strong community.
The first question at midday Tuesday as the snow was piling up was: Where are our photographers and reporters?
Two reporters were in the office, Brian Anderson and Madasyn Czebiniak. Brian is from New Hampshire and Madasyn is from New York, states where snowfall is far more common. Coincidence? We think not.
Both lept into action, doing what reporters do — asking questions, observing what’s going on, talking with sources, writing quick updates we could share online.
We soon discovered reporter Patrick McCreless and photographer Bill Wilson were in a jam. They were covering the county spelling bee at The Donoho School when the snow started falling. The steep roads near the school were almost impassible.
McCreless managed to drive his car, though it took hours to reach his home in Anniston. Once home, he filed his spelling bee story and contributed what he’d seen on his excursion over snow-covered roads. At about the same time, Features Editor Deirdre Long was making her way home after retrieving her children from daycare. Her observations from an almost five-hour drive made their way into our lead story, as well.
Photographer Steve Gross came to Wilson’s rescue. It took this duo hours to drive from one part of the county to the other. They, along with other Star journalists, recorded what they saw: a transportation crisis brought on by an intense snowstorm.
Managing editor Ben Cunningham kept tabs on the rest of the staff, coordinating and compiling news as it poured in from reporters and photographers filing electronically. As soon as we learned something new, it was added to AnnistonStar.com and appropriately promoted via social media.
By mid-afternoon, we turned our attention to Wednesday’s print edition, a task requiring designers and editors who at that time weren’t in the building. Not to worry. Copy editors AnnaMaria Jacob and Michael Martin walked in the door, as did nightside editor and Coffee Break barista Bill Edwards. Not long after, we learned three members of the press crew — Donald Jones, Shane McDonald and William McDonald — came in on their day off to produce the print edition. They were assisted by Ben Gilreath, production manager. Kevin Nails, an employee in our packaging center, walked 5 miles to make it to work Tuesday night.
As we worked on the print edition, it dawned on me that our army of reporters and editors would soon need some sustenance. I took a chilly and slippery mile-long stroll to the House of Chen and … ta-da … food. The kind staff at House of Chen offered me hot tea while they assembled my takeout order. I kept wishing I had enough hot tea to soak my feet.
By 6:30, the newsroom was feasting on what one wag dubbed “snow mein.”
The Chinese food powered us through completion of the paper and soon most of the crew slowly made their way home. Ben and I ended up bunking at The Star’s offices.
The next morning brought more of the same. Learn something new, and then let our readers know about it. We saw our online traffic spike, as residents turned to AnnistonStar.com frequently for the latest updates. We told them what we were seeing, and they did the same, filling in the picture of a community coping with a pair of unwelcome visitors: ice and snow.
Commentary editor Phillip Tutor and I put our iPhones to work, capturing brief videos of traffic on local roads and posting them to our website. Phillip shot the video that best summed up Wednesday morning. As a car moved slowly up Golden Springs Road, the driver leaned out the window and said, “It’s a little bit slick out here, ain’t it?”
Czebiniak and Wilson checked in with law-enforcers who had their hands full rescuing stranded motorists. We tip our hat to Matthew Wade, chief deputy of the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, who despite getting very little sleep the night before, picked up Bill and Madasyn and drove them around the county.
Gross and Trent Penny took their cameras out into the snow, capturing the pain (people digging cars out of ditches) and the joy (kids playing in the white stuff).
We were printing papers, but getting them to homes and businesses was trickier because of ice-covered roads. Dennis Dunn, our circulation manager who also was bunking at his office at The Star, was caught in a balancing act — trying to get print editions to readers but also protecting carriers who would have to venture out onto dangerous roads.
By midday Wednesday, Robert Jackson, vice president for operations and sales, and advertising manager David Bragg loaded up a four-wheel drive with Wednesday papers. They dropped them off at retail locations across the county. Before heading out, Robert offered to make a supply run to Walmart to restock the newsroom. That’s how we ended up eating pizza for dinner Wednesday night, and also how I was able to finally brush my teeth. That’s why I nominate Robert as my personal “snow angel.”
After a second night spent trying to sleep, something dawned on me. The weather brought into sharp relief The Star’s role in this community. This is what your newspaper does every day. Granted, not with a community locked in a deep-freeze. But the premise is basically the same. If you want to learn what’s going on in your community, our job is to be your source.
Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: EditorBobDavis.