When the newsroom has to evacuate

To stay or not to stay is the unavoidable question for Florida businesses, with a complicating reality for media: They have to continue to operate to do what they do and cover Hurricane Irma.

What to do?

The Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald were studies in contrast due to differing evaluations of the sturdiness of their primary headquarters.

The Tampa Bay newspaper had hoped to ride out the storm in its downtown St. Petersburg newsroom. But the building has lots of glass, and though the panes are rated to withstand up to 110 mph winds, the decision was made Saturday to move to its nearby massive concrete printing plant a mile and a half away.

Fortunately, the paper had long ago devised a business continuity plan, as do many larger enterprises, just in case of such a situation.

That meant preparing the plant for its use as a makeshift newsroom, including wiring it for 43 electrical connections for staffers and then utilizing what it calls "the bunker,” an even more enclosed area, where designers and copy editors had moved Sunday, according to Ron Brackett, deputy managing editor/Tampabay.com and presentation.

So those editorial employees who would have been normally in the newsroom were at the printing plant as it continued to cover a saga with even greater resonance due to Irma's shift in course directly toward them.

It was a different situation for the Miami Herald, as noted by managing editor Rick Hirsch.

"We are in our building, the former HQ for the U.S. Southern Command, covering the storm," he emailed Sunday. "Staffers here stayed overnight, and will be here throughout. Probably 40 newsroom staffers, some wives and kids, also reporters from NPR, New York Times, CNN. "

A move like the one in St. Petersburg was far from a first. In November 2012, the New York Daily News was driven from its home on the southern tip of Manhattan by Hurricane Sandy flooding, as recalled Sunday by Joel Siegel, who was the paper's politics editor and is now managing editor at NY1 News, the cable news channel. 

The day after flooding, the paper heroically turned out its product from the offices of a big law firm in midtown. Then it moved briefly to the offices of a Jewish weekly. The damage was so great at its headquarters that it then moved to its Jersey City, N.J., printing plant for a few months before moving again, to offices in midtown Manhattan, before finally getting back to its Sandy-ravaged building.

As for the printing plant, "It was set up already as an emergency operation, we just expanded it," recalled Colin Myler, who was editor in chief at the time. "Put on free shuttles from the subway to the plant, it worked okay.”

The Florida papers surely hope that they need not repeat the Daily News' multiple makeshift homes. And, too, that everybody gets their jobs done without negative repercussions.

As Neil Brown, editor and vice president of the Tampa Bay Times, put it in a note to staff, "Be safe. We will get through this together."

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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