COLUMN: Perry Bergson — July 3, 2012

Perry Bergson
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At 7 a.m. last Tuesday, I was sitting in my office with my feet up on my desk wondering how the Daily Herald was going to publish the next day.

The blackout that gripped Prince Albert had laid waste to the technology that we took for granted.

The phones were out. The lights were out. The computers were out. The servers were inaccessible.

All we had at that point were our staff iPhones and our Nikon cameras.

Reporters Braden Dupuis, Kristen McEwen and Alex Di Pietro joined me at the office in the next couple of hours.

Around 9:30 we had a brainstorming session to figure out what stories needed to be written, what questions needed to be answered and who would tackle each side of this massive story.

Alex would do police and the business stories linked to gasoline sales and the casino remaining open under generator power.

Braden would cover the city and health.

Kristen would do the main business story and cover schools.

I would take elements from all of their pieces and tie them together for a main story.

So we had a plan.

All we needed was a technical solution to our most pressing problem; how do we get our stuff to Moose Jaw?

For those who don’t know, the actual design and assembly of our pages is done at Transcontinental’s Saskatchewan Production Centre, which shares the building with the Moose Jaw Times Herald staff.

They are the folks that make us look so good day after day. Lacey and Randy would be looking after us that day. But their role in this story remains a few hours in the future.

Our advertising manager Mitzi Munro worked with the design team in Moose Jaw and their manager, Wanda, and was able to get proofs to our clients.

Moose Jaw was also able to get into our system to flow our Classified pages.

Now it was up to the newsroom.

Part-time writer Dave Leaderhouse had already provided his column for the editorial page and some stories for Sports. He took some pictures and brought them in; one was the photo of a group of SaskPower vehicles parked together.

Reporter Tyler Clarke, who had worked the weekend but was on days off, dropped in to say that he had taken three pictures. He was headed for the day to Saskatoon, and since we didn’t know how we were going to ship our stories and photos to Moose Jaw, he said he would find a hotspot there and send them.

And he did.

Braden, Kristen and Alex fanned out across the city, joining me back in the office for SaskPower’s 1:30 p.m. press conference via telephone.

I set my iPhone on the desks in the middle of the room, put it on speaker and we listened in.

By mid-afternoon, we had assembled most of the information we needed.

But how would we get it to Moose Jaw, especially in light of the warning that local cellphone towers were dangerously hot and in danger of going offline?

I prepared for a trip as far south as I needed to go to find Internet service, if it came to that.

If there’s a hero in this day, it was the Daily Herald’s information technology guy, Terry Munro.

Time after time, he was presented with problems and found ways to solve them.

Naturally, on this day, everything centred around power.

For instance, I had the files ready for the editorial page but they were on the desktop of my computer.

Terry’s solution?

It occurred to him that a backup power supply unit, called a UPS, might have enough juice to power my machine.

If we could start my machine, we could store the files on a memory stick and move them to the laptop. He warned me to be quick but the machine faded to black before I could grab the files on the first attempt.

The second attempt with a different UPS unit worked. The UPS also had enough juice to power my iPhone back up to 100 per cent.

I took the memory stick to the laptop and was able to email the files to Moose Jaw because Terry had tethered the laptop to an iPhone, which sent the files by satellite.

Another page was done.

A car was left running in the parking lot, charging cellphones and the small battery packs that can power them.

With the iPhones working constantly, they were running through their juice rapidly.

Because nobody plans for a blackout, many of the laptops had been left on the night before and their batteries weren’t fully charged.

We found one that was pretty good and grabbed five batteries that were lying around. We knew that we had some time but weren’t sure how much juice each one had.

As a result, the reporters transcribed their interviews by hand so that they could quickly transfer them to the laptop later. One by one, they took turns.

When they finished, they would call me over, I would scan the story and then we would email it as quickly as we could.

While they worked in the newsroom, I tapped away on my iPhone on the main story. As someone slow to embrace texting, the irony wasn’t lost on me.

I wrote the story in my Gmail account, sending it to myself segment by segment as I sifted through the press conference for quotes and looked over the other stories for elements to graft into the main piece.

Later, when Braden finished his stories, he went through other peoples’ tape and handwrote quotes for us.

It was the kind of teamwork that went on all day until the final story was emailed to Moose Jaw at 8:12 p.m.

I’ve seen a lot of things in my 25 years in the newspaper business, but this day proved to be utterly unique.

We have a young staff at the Daily Herald but they responded like grizzled veterans. There was no complaining; they knew what they were up against and quietly did their jobs.

I’m proud of them and Terry and the Moose Jaw production centre. Failing to publish was never a viable option.

The power may have gone out but the spark in this room never did.

Organizations: Daily Herald, Prince Albert, UPS Transcontinental Saskatchewan Production Centre

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Saskatoon

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