Thursday, September 1, 2005

Publishing Newspapers During Disasters

Newspapers consider it a point of honor to continue publishing no mater how bad things get. What do they do if a natural disaster prevents them from printing the next day's edition? Imagine: What would the newspapers of Mumbai would have done if the July 26 cloudburst had prevented publication? What if the printing presses had gone under water?

The New Orleans Times-Picayune couldn't figure out how to publish a print edition on August 31, after Hurricane Katrina put much of the city under water. Rather than not publishing an edition, It published PDF pages of the paper on its website.

One wonders how people would have accessed (and printed -- I suppose that was the intention behind the PDF format) the website for the PDF edition when most of the city would be without electricity or even communication services. An online edition might be good for reaching the connected, but is of no use to people who are the victims of the disaster.

While The New Orleans Times-Picayune should be commended for continuing to publish even under such difficult circumstances, it should also give a thought to the resumption of its print edition at the earliest.

After the cloudburst of July 26, we in Ambernath (about 60 Kms from Mumbai) had no electricity for a few days. Most of us had no access to any news or any source of information. The only "connections" we had with the world were cell phones (and even they were not reliable -- the cell network too had gone on the blink). These cell phone conversations were our only source of news -- and it is through them that we first came to know about the size and scale of the disaster in Mumbai and in our adjoining areas. Our first "hard news" came about two days later when some newspapers were finally available in the town -- when the road links were finally restored.

I guess all newspapers should think about (and they already might have) -- about having their own disaster management plan -- a plan that covers not only publication but also the distribution of the newspaper.

Source: Poynter Online: Keep Publishing, No Matter How Bad It Gets

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