PUNTA GORDA, Fla. – Newspapers in Hurricane Charley's (search) path were determined to go to press Friday, while battening down for a direct or near hit.
At the Charlotte Sun-Herald, near where the eye came ashore, executive editor Jim Gouvellis said hurricane shutters were up and the newspaper had no plans for its staff of about 30 to evacuate the building.
"We're pretty much waiting and seeing what happens," Gouvellis said.
Richard Hackney, the Sun-Herald's vice president for operations, said his paper will hit the streets three to six hours late if the power isn't cut. If it is, the paper will go to press at other sites.
"We have never not published," Hackney said. But he also noted the paper's headquarters is a half-mile from Charlotte Harbor (search), and state weather experts said the storm surge could reach up to 20 feet as Charley struck with winds of 145 mph.
The News-Press in Fort Myers is headquartered less than a mile from the Caloosahatchee River (search), and the surge could flood the paper.
"We certainly might be in danger," said Kate Marymont, News-Press executive editor.
Marymont said the paper's reporters were among the last to evacuate the barrier islands, which were expected to be washed over by waters pushed in from the Gulf of Mexico. About 100 employees remained in the newsroom, while their families and pets were sheltered in the paper's strengthened warehouse.
"We believe our working journalists are safe right now," Marymont said. "We opted for safety first."
The most powerful storm to strike the state since 1992 was expected to pass over the homes of about 6.5 million Floridians, making essential the timely dissemination of news. But the hurricane's unpredictability and strength forced papers to find a balance between serving their readers and protecting their employees while still matching their competition.
"We're going to deliver the paper where we can, when we can," said Leigh Caldwell, senior editor at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
The Bradenton Herald's executive editor was glad to be was across the street from a hospital, because of the sturdy electrical grid.
"But we probably will lose power, so we've got all backup generators wired," Joan Krauter said.
At The Tampa Tribune, staffers brought sleeping bags in anticipation of spending the night. Editor Frank Denton said distribution would likely be held until midday Saturday because a planned power outage would shut down the presses. Printing would go on in Orlando and Cocoa.
The Tribune, located on the Hillsborough River, had prepared a secondary newsroom at the University of South Florida, he said.
Across the bay at the St. Petersburg Times, there was optimism that two years of planning would pay off in a solid Saturday edition.
"If the power holds, we plan to put out pretty close to a complete newspaper," managing editor Neil Brown said.
Florida Today, on the Atlantic coast in Rockledge, moved back its deadlines and planned to go to press about an hour late.
The Ledger in Lakeland planned to publish an eight-page extra at noon Saturday for distribution at convenience stores.
The Citrus County Chronicle, serving the area north of Tampa, moved up deadlines by more than 11 hours, managing editor Mike Arnold said. An early press run meant carriers wouldn't deliver during a night in which whipping winds and torrential rains were expected.
"We're focusing on shelters, who to call to get trees out of your yard, who to call if there's power lines down," Arnold said. "It's tough. How do you write a story where people don't pick up the paper the next day and say, 'Wait a minute, that happened more than 24 hours ago?'"
In north-central and northeast Florida, also moving up deadlines were the Palatka Daily News, the Ocala Star-Banner and The Florida Times-Union, in Jacksonville.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, based in Fort Lauderdale, extended its deadline and planned extra pages.