Most subscribers got their Christmas Day newspaper – or most of it, at least – a day late, as The Spokesman-Review scrambled to recover from a double whammy on Christmas Eve: a power outage on top of record snowfall.
The main news sections of the newspaper were not included in the papers that made it to most doorsteps on Christmas morning. The majority of subscribers received just the pre-printed Today section and advertising inserts; some received their neighborhood Voice sections as well.
But only about 10,000 of 110,000 papers delivered Thursday morning included the main news sections of the paper – the front, Northwest and sports sections, said Shaun O’L. Higgins, spokesman for Cowles Publishing Co.
Those sections were delivered to almost all customers in Friday’s paper.
“It’s the first time I know of where we distributed papers in parts over two days,” Higgins said.
A fire in an underground vault on West Sprague Avenue apparently caused the outage, which also affected other businesses along the street, including the Fox Theater, the Davenport Hotel, the Cathedral Plaza apartments and the Knitting Factory. The outage started around 6 p.m. Wednesday, and power was restored after 1:30 a.m.
Work in the newsroom and part of the production work went forward on backup power, but that wasn’t sufficient to power the presses and other production systems, Higgins said.
By the time power was restored, many of the newspaper’s delivery vehicles had already left with the partial papers. Higgins said the Spokesman’s management team, unsure of whether power would be restored at all, decided to send out trucks as soon as they could, given the road conditions that made delivery difficult.
He said the newspaper considered investing in a backup generator for the presses several years ago, when another outage threatened production, but decided that the multimillion-dollar investment would be too great for the limited use. The newspaper has an agreement with the publisher of the Lewiston Morning Tribune to provide emergency backup printing – but road conditions Christmas Eve made the drive to the North Idaho town impractical.
It’s not clear how many people called the newspaper to complain or report missing newspapers, because the outage wreaked havoc with the newspaper’s phone system. Customer service representatives were taking calls until noon on Christmas Day and were back at it Friday. Higgins said that they’d returned about half of the 1,000 phone messages left by customers.
“People are frustrated, though some of the callers are very understanding,” he said.