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Cook column: Thanks for your understanding

Thousands of Rowan residents walked out to the curb Thursday morning to pick up their paper only to find none there.

It was a newspaper’s worst nightmare. A gear stripped in a drive clutch on the Post’s press Wednesday night, and the gigantic machine came to a halt.

“I received a call from our production manager before midnight,” Publisher Greg Anderson says. “We had just finished printing a weekly newspaper from Greensboro and were about to begin printing the Post and two other daily newspapers.”

The Post had a backup plan in place, partnerships with other newspapers close by to print each other’s papers in case of emergency. Just two weeks ago, the Post stood ready to print one of those papers when its press went down, but that paper was able to make repairs in time.

“In our case, as soon as the press went down we enacted our emergency plan — making calls to our partners — while we attempted repairs,” Anderson says. But press operators are heavy sleepers, evidently. “We were unable to reach any of our partners until about 6:30 a.m.”

By then, not enough time remained to transmit the Post’s page images to an out-of-town plant, print the paper and distribute it back in Salisbury before the morning ran out.

Also by then, the Post’s phones had started ringing. And ringing. And ringing. People wanted to know where their paper was.

“We estimate several thousand calls were received from customers,” Anderson says.

The majority of people were polite, especially once they learned the press had broken down. They hadn’t been skipped or missed; the paper just hadn’t been printed yet.

A few were less understanding, and we get that. You pay for a product; you expect to get it.

It soon became evident to Anderson that the Post would need to have both Thursday’s and Friday’s papers printed off site and deliver them together Friday morning. Getting two papers printed offsite ASAP was a tall order. Newspapers that still run their own presses keep them busy printing several publications, as the Post does.

So the Charlotte Observer printed Thursday’s paper, the The News & Record in Greensboro printed Friday’s paper and the Post’s carriers delivered both editions together Friday morning.

Parts and technicians arrived Friday to get the press rolling again, and Saturday’s paper was printed on schedule.

But few of us will forget last Thursday.

“Never have I or anyone with the Post experienced not publishing a newspaper,” Anderson says. “I’ve heard of this happening in other places.”

The Post’s contingency plans need to be sharpened and practiced with its partners, he says.

Technicians found the cause of the problem, according to Anderson: drive motor vibration due to loosened bolts. That situation was set right.

“The press is in great shape,” Anderson says. “Earlier in the year we invested more than $100,000 to rebuild the folder. We are printing better and faster than ever. We print many other newspapers from around the region.”

Stuff happens, as they say, but that’s no excuse. The Post takes very seriously its obligation to readers and advertisers to deliver a paper every day, 365 days a year.

“I am terribly sorry for this inconvenience,” Anderson says. “Our employees worked tirelessly to remedy the situation during a 36-hour period.  Others provided  great help to our customer service department in responding to customers and in getting the word out through digital channels.

“News and advertising responded to the need for an early deadline for the next day’s paper because we still could not print the next night. Our newspaper carriers stood with us to make deliveries as soon as we could get printed. I am fortunate to work with a fantastic group of people.”

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

 

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