Having spent seven years in North Carolina as the publisher of a weekly newspaper, I know first-hand how challenging it can be to put out a newspaper week after week after week. When you throw in a natural disaster like a hurricane, well, that kind of tips the scales a little bit more — and not in your favor.
So when Hurricane Matthew decided it wanted to take aim for South Carolina, we here at The Newberry Observer prepared for it. Since we are the print facility for all of Civitas Media’s properties in South Carolina — The Union Times, The Easley Progress and The Pickens Sentinel are all our sister papers — when weather or any other event has the potential to impact us, we have to adjust.
And so we did.
On Oct. 7, the Friday before Hurricane Matthew was expected to come roaring ashore, we moved the print time of The Union Times up as far as we could so we could, first, get our personnel here out and home and second, so we could get our folks in the field — our driver Moses Hare and our carrier Suzette Edenfield — out as soon as possible so they could get in as soon as possible.
Suzette was even kind enough to meet Moses in Whitmire that night to save on time.
We knew we were the contingency printer for our sister paper in Lumberton, N.C., and while they have never had to use us in an emergency, we made sure we were in contact with them. The last word we heard from them on that Friday was that they thought everything would be OK.
As most everyone knows, that area of North Carolina — Robeson County and the home of the Lumbee River — took a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew. It wasn’t until I saw a photograph of the outside of The Robesonian, our sister paper, under water that I knew everything was far from OK.
Having been inside The Robesonian before, I knew from looking at the photograph that if the water was that high at the back of the building, it was pretty doggone deep in the front of the building.
Thanks to Facebook and other social media, I realized pretty quickly that the whole area was under water. Lots of water. I mean, lots and lots of water.
I watched as the editor of The Robesonian, Donnie Douglas, posted on Facebook about what was going on. I read where others I worked with electronically were without power, couldn’t get out of their homes, had no water.
And I knew that there would be no way in Hades that they would be able to print their paper or the others — The Bladen Journal in Elizabethtown, The Laurinburg Exchange, The Richmond County Daily Journal in Rockingham and The Anson Record in Wadesboro — they normally printed.
I felt their pain. I knew that had Matthew took the track they were predicting, that could have been us. Remember the 1,000 year flood from almost exactly a year ago?
By Monday afternoon, The Newberry Observer had been tasked with printing The Laurinburg Exchange, The Richmond County Daily Journal and The Anson Record while The Mt. Airy News, another sister paper in North Carolina, had been tasked with printing The Bladen Journal and The Sampson Independent from Clinton, N.C.
That meant coordinating all kinds of things — deadlines, people, print times, more people, getting copies of each paper’s configuration, figuring out how to get from Point A — Newberry — to Point B — North Carolina, most of which appeared to be under water.
We had to rent a cargo van (thanks to Joe Trainor at Stokes-Trainor for his help on that), decide when to print which paper and figure out how to get from here to there. There is no easy, straight or quick way to get there. Take out all the roads that were impassable and well, it suddenly seemed like The Amazing Race of Newspapers.
At times, it felt like I was herding cats while at others, I felt compelled to take some Duct tape and strap my cell phone to my head. I don’t know that my cell phone has ever rang that much in as short a period of time as it did that Monday. Or that Tuesday. Or the rest of the days. My contact list has more than doubled in size.
But that, friends, is more than OK.
We have a small staff here so when something major like this happens, it means extra jobs get thrown into the mix and you have to find someone who can handle the task at hand. In this case, the biggest hurdle we had was getting the papers TO North Carolina without risking life and limb.
It was Leesa Chavis, our state circulation manager, who was tasked with carting the newspapers to North Carolina. In the dark. Across bridges. Bridges that were eerily close to flooding. Into an area of North Carolina that was, for lack of a better term, under water.
I made her promise to text me when she got to Laurinburg — roughly a three and a half hour drive under normal conditions — and when she got home. At no time has the game “Marco Polo” been as important to me as it was that night. Knowing that one of my employees was out there, alone, in an unfamiliar area, made for a restless night for me.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
We survived the week in fine fashion although there were times when I wasn’t so sure we were going to. Tempers flared a few times and the lack of sleep got the better of us as the week wore on but we never lost sight of our mission.
We could not have done any of what we did without Johnnie Wilson and Sammy Graham, our press guys, stepping up the plate in fine fashion on such short notice, along with our mailroom crew — Teresa Dean, Tony Cannon and Tim Caldwell.
As publisher of the four Civitas Media papers in South Carolina, I don’t tell the folks who make it happen day in and day out how much I appreciate them and what they give to this company, or what their effort, time and dedication means to me.
So thank you, to each one of you, for all you do to help us be the best we can be, no matter what gets thrown our way. I know that among newspaper groups, I would put the one in South Carolina up against any other.
I know we could swing for — and make it to — the fences because we have a deep, deep bench. As I like to say, we might not be large in number, but we are mighty.
#wegotthis — And don’t any of you ever forget it.
Patricia M. Edwards is the publisher of The Newberry Observer and group publisher of The Union Times, The Easley Progress and The Pickens Sentinel, all sister publications of The Newberry Observer. She can be reached via email at email@example.com or you can drop by to see her anytime.