The first sign of trouble came at 7 a.m. Wednesday. Our morning Web reporter, Travis Kellar, shot me a text letting me know the power was out in our newsroom on Main Street in Wilkes-Barre.
He quickly posted an update for readers on our website and Facebook page, then I asked my colleagues to let their teams know they should plan to work from home.
A decade or so ago, a morning power outage wouldn’t be a problem for us. We wouldn’t really jump into panic mode until the afternoon. Reporters would still go about their day, as would photographers, and their edited words and photos would be married by page designers who wouldn’t come into the office until 4 p.m.
But in 2014, that’s a potential problem. Our audience has exploded thanks to readers who choose to read our news online. (Shameless plug: If you have an iPhone, iPad or Android, go to your app store and download The Times Leader’s app. It’s the best way to keep on top of breaking local news.) No power means no updates.
As I write this column three hours later, power remains out. Yet everyone’s going about their day, and our website remains updated with local news.
Our newsroom’s equipped with laptops and iPads that use cellphone networks to access our systems. In situations where there are power outages, that’s a blessing. An even bigger blessing, though, is the centralization of newsroom systems at the corporate level that allow us to remotely access them from anywhere.
That’s a fancy way of saying power outages mean we get to work from home.
Newsrooms use what are called “content management systems.” It’s what reporters use to write stories, what editors use to edit them, how stories appear online, and what page designers use to create our pages and then send them to our press facility on Market Street. These systems are very expensive and used to only be accessible from the newsroom on the newspaper’s internal network.
But as goes technology goes The Times Leader. We’ve upgraded to a new CMS that allows us to access it from anywhere. If you have electricity, Internet access and login information, you can access it.
That made Wednesday so much easier than it otherwise would’ve been.
Even with a powerless newsroom, we were able to update our website (and mobile apps) without interruption. While the usual interplay between reporters and editors wasn’t as convenient as it would’ve been in person, and not having access to our desk phones was incredibly frustrating, we were able to communicate just fine using instant messaging, texts, emails, video conferencing and phone calls. And because our design studio and press facility didn’t lose power, production of the paper itself was never in danger.
It’s incredible to think how far we’ve come. A decade ago, technologies such as instant messaging and video conferencing were infrequently used in our industry. Now, they help us do our jobs even when our newsroom is darkened.
So many of us cling to a past that we romanticize; I’m guilty of it myself sometimes. When our new CMS has a glitch, we tell ourselves how much better the old system was (even though it really wasn’t). But on days like Wednesday, I’m forever grateful for a system that is open no matter where our reporters are.