When Superstorm Sandy flooding sideswiped the New York Daily News in October 2012, editors relocated to a Jewish weekly and a Manhattan law firm before the newsroom was reestablished in the paper’s New Jersey printing plant.
Now imagine what a prominent Nepalese newspaper editor did after Saturday’s earthquake.
“With no electricity, we couldn’t work, or sleep, in the office due to the aftershocks,” Kunda Dixit said by phone late Wednesday. “So we moved the whole operation to my living room.”
Dixit is a Nepal native and 1985 graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He’s the much-respected editor of both a Nepalese magazine and English language paper, the Nepali Times.
And he’s now, rather unequivocally, battle-tested under the most extreme of operational challenges.
Dixit’s two media outlets, including sales and marketing staff, occupy a three-story building in Kathmandu. But that edifice wasn’t secure in the immediate aftermath, so he moved as many of his folks as possible to his house, which has solar power and didn’t depend on the crippled local electricity grid.
And when people were understandably anxious about aftershocks, or Wi-Fi wasn’t very consistent, he moved his temporary newsroom out onto his lawn and reported from there.
His magazine has 15 editors and 25 people on the business side. The tabloid weekly has six reporters and one online producer.
As he recounted in the New York Times, when the quake hit, he was leading a staff retreat and they were almost thrown off a mountain. He and colleagues then looked down at the city engulfed in dust and chaos.
In our phone conversation, he said, “We have a policy of ‘online first’ with news and so the earthquake was instant breaking news, with new angles and event every other deposited online. It was almost like being a wire service.”
And since they needed constant Wi-Fi and electricity, he and colleagues move to wherever they could find it, be it a neighbor’s house or a nearby school. Sometimes reporters just filed straight from their mobile phones, which they could recharge via solar power if electricity was still out.
By Wednesday the staffs were moving back to their office. But there remained the challenge of printing the weekly paper.
As it turned out, the printing press, located about a half hour away, developed some cracks during the quake and even shifted several inches.
Dixit dropped off his eight pages there in the evening and was hopeful all would go well in printing the normal 20,000 copies (the magazine prints 40,000 copies). Both are full color.
Dixit is a former Fulbright Scholar, married and with two architect sons living in New York City and Nepal. His counsel to his counterparts elsewhere, if ever faced with such calamity, is pretty straightforward:
“Never take anything for granted. Always have a backup plan. And not just a Plan B and Plan C, but a Plan D, E and F.”
“And figure out any means to get a story out. You have to maximize your leadership, think multimedia and just don’t wait for your normal deadlines. Your deadline is there now all the time.”
As for what advice he gave employees, “I told them safety and family were a priority.”
So most wound up living in tents outside for at least four nights, “which was miserable because it was raining. So when they came to work, they looked pretty groggy. But they coped pretty well.”
“The nose for news,” said Dixit, “is there.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained a typo in the pull quote. It has been corrected.