Picking up the pieces after a difficult week

DOVER — Around the office, the staff sometimes will hear this editor describe a deadline as another “miracle on Galaxy Drive.”

We pulled one off with last Sunday’s edition.

After Saturday’s edition was printed, some significant upgrades to our computer network began.

As you might guess, some things that could go wrong did. While the network was down, so were our phones, email and internet.

Some of our staff plugged away at home.

Our sports team and photographers were in Newark for the championship football games and we had other great content in the works, such as the lead story on state recycling changes and coverage of the Home for the Holidays parade, which we were excited to get to you.

Meanwhile, our tech, production and press crews kept working the problems until we could get plates made and the press set up.

Papers got printed.

Somehow, they always do — except when the snow gets so high that the state tells everyone they have to stay home. Even then, we know someone’s going to call and complain about not getting a paper.

This editor has been in the daily newspaper business for 31 years now and has seen deadline chaos many times. This might have been one of the most challenging, simply because it involved so much technology. It’s a bit like the frustration of trying to fix a modern car,

We interrupted some of our key business systems along with the phones in Reader Services.

In some cases, delivery was disrupted with no fault to carriers.

Our voice-over-internet and subscriber system was down through the first half of the week so we couldn’t serve our customers in the efficient manner we desire.

We apologize to all of you who experienced frustration. Our folks are back in action and catching up.

The truth is that we want every newspaper to get delivered and every reader to enjoy it — knowing full well we’re open to whatever criticism is about to be lobbed at us.

We do this because we love reporting the local news and supporting our communities.

It’s troubling to think that people think otherwise and feel the need to cast evil words our way. Some of the recent calls crossed the line of civility.

In the aftermath of a rough deadline and week, I’m reminded of two old newspaper tales. The first is a reminder that stuff happens in a newspaper office and has for decades.

The late Wright Robinson, a great newspaper friend who was editor of The Leader in Seaford for decades, once shared a tale of his 1933 Christmas edition mishap with a form holding all the metal type put together for the front page.

“As we attempted to slide the heavy forms onto the press, we dropped the front page,” he recounted in a column. “Thousands of little pieces of the type we had spent days setting and locking in place scattered all over the floor. Our whole week seemed ruined.

“But editors, even in those days, were resourceful. We decided to re-lock the front-page chase and set up a huge “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” in the biggest wood type we had in the shop. Then, we realized we had only two Rs in that particular font, and “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” needed three Rs. So, we settled on “MERRY XMAS!

“We locked that wonderful Christmas message in our front-page chase, put the paper to bed, got the paper into the post office for mailing and went happily homeward, secure in the knowledge that our readers would be so full of the Christmas spirit that the loss of their news that week wouldn’t matter too much.

“Somehow, the tale of our accident got circulated in the town. I honestly can’t remember a single complaint we received from any subscriber.”

The second tale relates to the ire of some newspaper customers.

Jim Miller, in a book about the Delaware State News’ early years, once asked the pesky writer of a long, largely illegible, letter to leave the newsroom in what he described as “a stormy exchange in the midst of some editorial crisis.”

“She left,” he wrote, “but not before pointing to heaven and putting a curse upon our house. ‘I hope the roof falls in,’ she said. The next day, it did. We patched it up as best we could, and went on about our business.”

Reach editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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