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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: In reporting the snowstorm, the first question should be whether the coffee will hold out

By Tom Warhover
February 4, 2011 | 11:41 a.m. CST

Dear Reader,

Here’s a challenge for you.

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The scenario: A winter storm is approaching. You’re the general manager of the Missourian. Among the questions you need answered:

General Manager Dan Potter and his staff answered those and a hundred more this week. He slept on an air mattress in the office Tuesday night; Production Manager Bruce Moore would have used it Wednesday, but he fell asleep in his office chair.

I cheered with each victory over the mundane.

The storm turned Moore back from a trip to the Columbia Daily Tribune pressroom Tuesday night, but he made it at first light Wednesday. Every carrier arrived at the loading area to distribute Thursday morning’s edition, even though the roads were still horrible in most places.

Covering the near-blizzard presented a few challenges. (Officially, we needed a lousy 2 mph more in sustained winds, to 35 mph, to make it an official blizzard.)

The Missourian has its main newsroom in Columbia and one bureau in Jefferson City.

Suddenly there were dozens.

Reporters and editors who couldn’t get out of their cul-de-sacs could still work from home using phones, the Internet and shoe leather.

Some made it to the office.

This week’s edition of Vox was finished by a handful of editors a full half-day earlier than the normal deadline.

A crew of the most experienced students on the copy desk came in Tuesday, and again Wednesday, and called me on Thursday asking when they should start rolling all over again.

Reporter Camille Phillips was working the phones when I left Tuesday afternoon and when I walked in the door Wednesday morning. She had slept on an office couch.

So had Managing Editor Jeanne Abbott.

ColumbiaMissourian.com was continually updated. Rather than a dozen small stories, a “rolling report” was set up with the most recent news at the top. Sometimes the items were as small as our town being noticed on The Weather Channel. Other times they were as large as the first announcement of I-70 being shut down.

Photographers captured the struggle and also the beauty. They trudged into the newsroom, leaning a little forward as if still fighting the wind, produced their work, warmed up, and then disappeared into the whiteness again.

Then there were the FOMs (friends of the Missourian) who lent a hand.

Mike Jenner stopped by Monday afternoon and asked, “What can I do to help?” I handed him $100 and said: Buy groceries. (Some editors scoffed, Mike, at the large volume of bread. But the five loaves didn’t last through the second day.)

Clyde Bentley, a professor and four-wheel-drive owner, distributed newspapers to his neighbors Wednesday. David Lile at KFRU relayed to listeners the status of print delivery.

I was proud of the work of all those who worked to produce the Missourian this week. I wish you could see the determination and passion I saw in their eyes. They wanted to do the job well.

And they did.

By Thursday afternoon, Potter had sent his production manager home with strict instructions to sleep for the next 17 hours.

That’s just enough time to wake up to the next predicted snowfall.

Tom