Media Scrambles Amid Blackout

Using backup generators and other contingency plans, newspapers and television networks struggled to tell the story of the blackout while dealing with the same hardships as their consumers.

In New York, a backup diesel generator kept Dan Rather on the air at CBS News, and in Cleveland and Detroit, newspaper publishers turned to competitors for help.

"We do have a contingency plan, but in terms of a power outage like this, not really," said John X. Miller, public editor of the Detroit Free Press. He did not know why the paper's backup generators did not kick in.

The Detroit News also had no power, and planned to print an eight-page paper with no ads out of the Battle Creek Enquirer's printing plant, said Mark Silverman, publisher and editor. The paper sent staffers to Howell, Mich., about an hour west of Detroit, to set up shop in a hotel. Plans were much the same at the Free Press, which is run under a joint operating agreement with the News.

In Cleveland, The Plain Dealer lost all power, and 15 reporters and editors were sent 25 miles south to the Akron Beacon-Journal, said Alex Machaskee, publisher and president. He planned to use the Beacon-Journal's press to publish a 24-page paper with only eight pages of news.

The networks, ABC, CBS and NBC all had backup power in place, and their news divisions began broadcasting the story shortly after the lights went out.

"It is only thanks to emergency generators and a whole lot of scrambling here that we are able to say this Thursday night, Good evening from NBC News headquarters in midtown Manhattan, where we are in the midst of what appears to be a colossal and history-making blackout," anchor Brian Williams said to open the "NBC Nightly News."

NBC had planned to sit Williams outside of its Rockefeller Center office and beam his image via satellite to California, and then across the country. But at the last minute, enough power was found to broadcast out of an inside studio.

Rather, who worked from CBS' Manhattan studios, was the only one of the three top anchors on duty at the time of the blackout. NBC's Tom Brokaw and ABC's Peter Jennings were on vacation.

Partly as a result, ABC chose to broadcast its special report out of Washington with Ted Koppel as anchor. Backup generators were working in New York and the control room was functioning, but the network decided to go with a "more secure" operation in Washington, spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said.

Fox News Channel continued to function from New York with backup power, said spokesman Rob Zimmerman. Atlanta-based CNN and New Jersey-based MSNBC similarly were able to offer uninterrupted signals.

The New York Times had auxiliary power at its 43rd Street headquarters, but was planning to reduce the size of Friday's paper, said spokeswoman Catherine Mathis. Its printing plant in Queens was knocked out, so the paper planned a double run at its plant in Edison, N.J.

The New York Daily News and the New York Post published thinner-than-usual Friday editions. The Daily News devoted some 29 of 46 pages to coverage of the outage; the Post put out 48 pages, with the first five pages carrying blackout coverage and the rest of the paper with other news.

The Wall Street Journal managed to publish its normal format.

The Toronto Globe and Mail was conducting its front-page story meeting when the power went out.

"We decided what the front page story would be," said Edward Greenspon, editor in chief.

The newspaper prints at six plants across Canada, and only the one in Toronto went out. The paper's normal five sections were to be reduced to two, totaling 28 pages, Greenspon said.

Overseas, news of the blackout played almost continuously on Britain's 24-hours news stations, Sky and BBC News 24. Cameras trained on New York City's crowded streets played back live images of the thousands of workers walking home.

On Broadway, the show did not go on.

Twenty-two shows — 19 musicals and three plays — went dark. The luckiest show in town was "Say Goodnight Gracie, which did not have a Thursday evening performance.