I’m not normally in this space on Wednesday, but in light of what we’ve all been through these last few days, I wanted to share what your community newspaper staff has been up to.
It’s been a long week for all of us here at The Pilot. Like many of you, we have been planning for and living with Hurricane Florence since Monday, Sept. 10. The key difference, though, is that The Pilot news staff has been working virtually around the clock keeping Moore County up to date on the latest from the tropical storm.
Ahead of the storm, The Pilot last week removed the subscription and log-in requirements from its website, thepilot.com, thus allowing all readers to keep up with Florence and its progress toward North Carolina. Like many other businesses, we sent most of our staff home Thursday for the rest of the week, but our news team stayed in place.
With publisher David Woronoff leading the way, we laid out a plan to reduce the paper’s size to just two 16-page sections and produce all non-storm content by the end of the day Thursday. That gave us all day Friday to report on the storm and get the final few pages finished. Instead of deadlining the paper at 2 p.m. Saturday, we pushed it back to 7:30 Friday night, allowing adequate time for our printer in Raleigh to produce it and get it back to us earlier Saturday.
This decision proved prescient. After losing power for about an hour Friday afternoon, we rushed to finish by 7 p.m. As we were sending the last pages, the power was flickering in the building. Shortly after we left for the night, power went out completely and didn’t return until Sunday night.
The paper arrived around 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Even with tropical force winds and rains, our amazing circulation director Darlene Stark and her band of carriers arrived within 30 minutes to get the papers for their routes. We told them to be careful and, if need be, wait until daylight Sunday to deliver. Virtually all papers were delivered before dark Saturday night. We’ve always been blessed with loyal and dedicated carriers, but their performance this weekend was above and beyond, given the conditions in which they had to load and then travel.
But while the paper was done, The Pilot’s news staff was not. Unable to work in the newsroom, The Pilot’s newsroom spread out across the county. Everyone had specific assignments, from power outage updates to flooding to emergency responses. Each staffer worked through the weekend — often standing outside in the gusty storms reporting and posting regular updates to The Pilot’s Facebook page and the website.
A few memorable scenes from the weekend:
* After scrambling around southern Moore all day Saturday, David Sinclair went back to his condo only to find water pouring through his kitchen ceiling. A hole in the roof of the unit above him had water pouring in. He spent Saturday dealing with tarps and buckets but kept up reporting. On Sunday, he took a short break to relocate but continued reporting on power outages and posting updates.
* Laura Douglass, who lives in Seven Lakes, moved in for two days with our design director Abbi Overfelt in her Southern Pines home so Laura could be closer in to cover news. She brought everyone updates on traffic conditions, businesses that were open and storm conditions. On Sunday, we got word that Southern Pines town councilman Fred Walden had passed away, so Laura got pulled into yet another story.
* Mary Kate Murphy, temporarily put out after her power went out, scrambling for a dry place with wifi to update the website and track down all the incidents of flooding and trees down. She took many of your videos and photos and shared them with everyone else.
* Jaymie Baxley, who also lost power at his Aberdeen home Friday afternoon, spent all weekend with his wife working to bring us updates from emergency responders. On Saturday evening, he and Tracy even took care packages to local firefighters at their stations. Sunday night, Jaymie worked until 2 a.m. updating us on the flooding situation out at Woodlake and northern Moore.
* Then there was Ted Fitzgerald, with all his years of news photography in Boston, shooting his first hurricane. Ted was like a little kid getting to ride a fire truck and operate the siren. He was tireless and fearless in capturing hundreds of images, from workers in bucket trucks to fitness nuts jogging in the stinging rain.
A number of you have called or written with your thanks and appreciation, and we, in turn, thank you. We’re privileged to do this everyday and can’t imagine doing anything else. In a slow moment Sunday, David Sinclair turned to his Facebook page and wrote a little note that I thought sums it up well.
“ I am so proud of the work we have done covering this major story,” he wrote. “Many of us dealing with having no power ourselves, putting out a Sunday paper and providing update after update online trying to keep our readers, subscribers and our neighbors informed of what is going on as best as we humanly can!!
“These type events tend to bring out the best and the worst in people. I chose to focus on the best, because that is what I have seen from (...) my co-workers and other friends!! I am safe and I am incredibly blessed!!”