Extreme journalism


Severe weather is no match for Indiana journalists

When heavy snow and ice hit much of the state this month, newspaper staffs stepped up to cover the story.

Readers stuck at home wanted information on how the storm was affecting their communities, and they got it in print and online.

Stories, photos and multimedia packages told of drifting snow, ice-covered roads and blizzard conditions.

They didn’t report the effort of journalists to get the story on deadline.

Here, journalists write about how they braved the elements and survived with great stories to tell.

Office all-nighter

Sleeping on the floor was kind of fun when I was a kid. Not so much now.

But I did it Feb. 1 in my efforts to finish The Banner (Knights­­­­town) far ahead of deadline.

The discomfort paid off.

As the ice storm moved in, we realized a power outage was imminent. I was completing pages and getting closer to putting the paper to bed.

The ice eventually nixed power in much of Knightstown, but The Banner wasn’t affected since it was printed ahead of schedule.

Through the dedicated efforts of our distribution employees, the paper went out on time. Some­­how we never missed a beat.

I am proud of our hearty business route driver, Pete Kiger, and distribution helper Patrick Kramer, neither of whom let the weather delay them.

Eric Cox, owner and publisher, The Banner (Knightstown)

Uncomfortable position

We were down three reporting positions — two job openings and one reporter on family leave — during the ice storm.

But our two available reporters, plus our photographers and others, hustled to report not only for each print edition but to do dozens of updates for our website.

Three newsroom employees found their cars surrounded by snow and ice at street side Wednesday morning and couldn’t drive to work — so they walked.

I wrote a column about rejected ice-storm headlines. A favorite: Slippery Went Wet.

Scott Underwood, editor, The Herald Bulletin (Anderson)

Frozen feet, frozen camera

On the day of the blizzard my camera decided not to work.

Yes, my batteries were fully charged. But as I was taking an over­view shot of downtown Fort Wayne my camera started to freeze up.

I went back to the office to edit and almost all of my photos would not open. This was especially exasperating because I about froze to death out there shooting photos.

Later I went out with editorial page editor Tracy Warner in a four-wheel-drive vehicle he rented to get a quick shot at 8 p.m. My photo deadline was 8:30 p.m. so I didn’t have a lot of options, especially with the dark, snowy conditions.

I ended up shooting the city courthouse at a very slow shutter speed. I got down on the ground to act as a human tripod to get something usable.

Except for my car getting stuck in the snow, my feet getting wet because of my horrible choice of boots and my fingers being so numb with cold that I just hoped to be able to push the shutter for a few more photos, it wasn’t too bad.

Laura J. Gardner, staff photographer, The Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne)

Making it work from home

The Mail-Journal (Milford) is a weekly newspaper that serves northern Kosciusko County. We print at noon Wednesdays.

The staff worked hard to make sure as much news as possible was in the composing room before we left on Tuesday, Feb. 1.

We begin our Wednesday workday at 7 a.m. My associate editor lives a short distance from the office. So does my sports editor. Both made it to work on time, as did two other associate editors who live in Goshen. State Road 15 between Milford and Goshen was passable.

I on the other hand found a four-foot drift in front of my garage that morning. We live more than 2 miles outside of town on a hill.

I stayed in contact via telephone with the four people who were able to make it to the office, and we discussed plans, who was doing what and how to fill the front page since Tuesday’s meetings had been cancelled.

One of my associate editors took to the streets with camera in hand. She had taken a few photos the evening before as well. The others started pulling unfinished news from the reporters’ computers to edit it. While we always work as a team, this was above and beyond what we normally need to do.

In December new neighbors moved into the house next door to mine. About 6 p.m. Tuesday evening our neighbor came over and introduced himself and said he would be there for us if we needed anything during the storm, and he would keep our drive clear.

As soon as the sun came up Wednesday we heard his truck in the drive, and by 9 a.m. I was at work thanks to my husband’s 4×4 and this super neighbor. My staff had everything under control.

With several reporters out and only two people in the composing room, we were only one hour late getting on the press. This could happen only because we did as much as possible the day before.

Jeri Seely, editor in chief, The Mail-Journal (Milford) and The Papers Inc.

From Russia with love

It certainly was an incredible few “snow days” for everyone involved at The Times of Northwest Indiana.

From staffers forced to spend nights at hotels, to finding ways to produce a paper under extreme deadlines, The Times delivered.

For the most part, almost every editorial employee was able to work in some capacity from the office, home or a hotel.

The challenge was getting around town.

Assistant managing editor Crista Zivanovic said of her morning drive to work on Wednesday, Feb. 2: “I felt like a character in ‘Dr. Zhivago.’ … Driving down the middle of the street, there was no one else in sight. I couldn’t see a thing. I was completely alone and felt like I was on the Russian Steppes.”

Staff and freelance photographers worked around the clock from the start to the end of the blizzard.

Freelance photographer Kristin Elkins shot photos from about 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. Feb. 3 during the heart of the storm.

Staff photographer Jonathan Miano, who stayed overnight at a nearby hotel, took over at 5 a.m.

When he was starting his shift, I was returning to the hotel after spending a few hours overnight at The Times office in Munster to make sure the website was updated throughout the early morning.

Other staff photographers – John J. Watkins, John Luke, Jon Hendricks and Tim Hunt – staved off the elements to take a plethora of great shots.

The overnight/early morning effort was further enhanced by reporters Pete Nickeas and Lauri Harvey Keagle, who worked from home to provide the freshest blizzard news possible.

The design department, led by Ben Cunningham, delivered a high-quality product under tight deadline pressure.

The paper’s A1s on Feb. 2 and 3 made Newseum’s Top 10 list despite the night staffers having to dig many of their cars out of the parking lot at the height of the storm.

Josh Weinfuss edited the sports section from home Wednesday because roads around his home weren’t plowed.

Despite the snow madness, The Times stepped up for its readers in print and online.

Justin Breen, assistant managing editor, The Times of Northwest Indiana (Munster)

Four-wheel drive, er, slide

All of my issues during the blizzard were just getting to the newsroom.

My editor’s concern was that I live across open country where the snow tends to drift, making travel difficult during snowstorms.

Our paper offered to put me up for the night in Fort Wayne but I declined.

I thought, “I have four-wheel drive – no problem.”

Well … the next morning at 6 a.m. I made a left out of my driveway and drove into a snowdrift.

I battled that for a good half hour before I called my editor to tell her I was having issues.

I took some shots of my stuck truck and sent them in from my house.

Later I tried to drive around the drift and ended up in a ditch alongside my road.

I freed myself and basically followed my tire tracks after repeatedly driving forward and then backward to gain some ground. I made it probably 20 feet down the road in an hour.

Around 8:30 a.m. I decided to call it quits and wait for a plow to come clear my road.

Fortunately that happened an hour later, and I headed into the newsroom to make some photos.

I’ve learned my lesson: Next time I will stay the night in town if a big snowstorm is heading our way.

Swikar Patel, photojournalist, The Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne)