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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How We Got This Week’s Issue to the Printer

posted by on August 20 at 12:46 PM

Tuesday is the busiest day in The Stranger’s production cycle—the day the paper goes to the printer. Yesterday afternoon, in the middle of the usual stress, our phones went blank and some of the lights in our offices went out. A second later, Dan Savage looked up from his computer and said, “Why can’t I get on Slog?”

A transformer across the street had just blown. In addition to the power we’d lost—some departments had it, some didn’t (the phone system had lost power)—we’d lost internet and email access. This posed a special problem: Without the internet, we couldn’t get pages to the printer. Our solution? Senior ad designer Mary Traverse took a computer to Grey Gallery & Lounge across the street from our offices, because they have free wi-fi, and uploaded one page (the one that was ready at that moment) to the printer’s FTP site from there. Meanwhile, we were still finishing up and proofreading pages on the few computers in the production department that still had power.

Eventually, big orange trucks from Seattle City Light showed up.


There was a white truck too—according to our tech support guy Brian Geoghagan, the white truck is always the supervisor’s truck—and Geoghagan took it upon himself to march up to the white truck and ask the man inside when the power was going to come back. The man in the white truck informed him that, actually, the power was about to go out. All of it. The whole block. More than the whole block. The City Light guys needed all the power out in the area to solve whatever the problem was.

Geoghagan relayed this information to our systems administrator Nathaniel Irons, who burst into the production department to let everyone know that the little power we had left was about to be cut. “Save what you’re doing and shut down!” he said. “How much time do we have?” everyone wanted to know. “Minutes,” Irons said, guessing. We approved a couple pages that hadn’t had all the usual eyes looking at them, so we could pdf them, save them to external hard drives, and send them to the printer remotely. It was a fun couple minutes there on the ludicrous-speed treadmill, getting pages approved faster than they’ve ever been approved, knowing full well there’d be errors but at least we’d have a complete paper, with all the usual sections and all the stories that the cover promised, and also a cover, since that was one of the pages still being worked on, and that these things happen, that this was going to be a funny story to explain to our readers, that—zhooooooooop!

All the computers went blank. The building was dead. We didn’t make it—we didn’t have pdfs of those rushed pages, because it takes a minute to pdf a page, and Grey Gallery had lost their power too. We all just kinda looked at each other.

The latest estimate from City Light was that power would be back around 7 pm—so the only thing to do was to go to a bar and wait. We went to Linda’s, since Linda’s is far enough from the office that they would still have power and since Linda’s has wi-fi—for email, for Slog—although, hilariously, the wi-fi at Linda’s was out. So we just waited.

That’s when things got interesting.

A new estimate from City Light came: power wasn’t going to be restored until 6 am. Meaning, if we waited until we had power back in the office to put out the issue, we wouldn’t be able to put out the issue on time—and the vast majority our content is time-sensitive. So we did something that has never happened before in The Stranger’s history.

We went back to the office and carried all of the equipment in the production department down three flights of stairs and into a waiting van usually used to distribute the paper. The plan: take our computers to Stranger web development director Anthony Hecht’s living room, plug in all our computers, and get back to work. We didn’t have access to our servers, where content lives until it is published, but each designer had their respective sections on their hard drives, too, so as long as we had the computers themselves, we could finish the issue. Tim Keck, the founder and publisher of The Stranger, and Geoghagan, the tech support guy, couldn’t resist snapping photos of the occasion.

Editorial designer Aaron Edge loading his computer into the van:


Aaron Huffman, our art director, letting his lady know he isn’t going to be home for dinner:


Adult classifieds rep Bobby Anderson, ad designer Shena Connolly, and classifieds rep Heather Hansen loading their equipment into another car:


Copy chief Gillian Anderson explaining to managing editor Bethany Clement, while the van was being loaded, what remained to be done with certain pages:


Those of us with bikes biked to Hecht’s while the equipment came over in the van, and Geoghagan’s last act of the day was to snap this photo of his coworkers while biking:


There were dozens of other technical issues involved in getting us up and running in Hecht’s dining room, comfortable as it was—nobody could log on to the iMacs using their regular log-in because of the way log-in had been set up on our network long ago, but we could bust into them using an admin password, although then we didn’t have individual designers’ templates, etc., etc. One of the templates we didn’t have was for the This Week on box on the back page. In a pinch, we decided to create a very different looking This Week on, one that harkened back to the pre-world-wide-web days. Way back.

We got the paper to the printer just after 9 pm. It was pouring outside. The office had power again—so much for that 6 am estimate—and we needed the computers here in the morning, to send our Bumbershoot guide to the printer (today). So we found a bunch of plastic grocery store bags and a couple trash bags in Hecht’s apartment, wrapped all the equipment, carried it out to cars in the downpour, and back up the office’s three flights of stairs.

This week’s issue of The Stranger should be on the streets at the same time it usually is, more or less. And it’s a beauty.

RSS icon Comments


Woohoo! My boy Brian G. gets a call out on SLOG.

Posted by Chris from N.O. | August 20, 2008 12:51 PM

so are you chuckleheads going to fire your sys admin for not creating a real redundancy plan or what?

All this horseshit is totally preventable with the most basic redundancy plan.

Posted by menelaus22 | August 20, 2008 1:01 PM


Posted by Mr. Poe | August 20, 2008 1:02 PM

it's like a DVD extras disc but without Peter Bogdanovich's irritating commentary.

Posted by michael strangeways | August 20, 2008 1:05 PM

Wear Helmets.

Posted by Ryan on Summit | August 20, 2008 1:08 PM

why does this amuse me so?

Posted by paulus | August 20, 2008 1:11 PM

Hecht works for The Stranger and has plastic grocery bags in his home? Shame!!! Shame!!! Shame!!!

Posted by Plastic | August 20, 2008 1:16 PM

Huh, no pics of A. Birch Steen throwing a tantrum?

Posted by Monty | August 20, 2008 1:23 PM

"van usually used to distribute the paper" and I thought it was distributed by bicycle, boy, do i feel like a fool

"So we found a bunch of plastic grocery store bags" Could any snarky comment from me really add anything to that?

Posted by Epimetheus | August 20, 2008 1:24 PM

@2 I can't see an alt weekly having off-site fail over or a generator in the basement.

Posted by Little Red Ryan Hood | August 20, 2008 1:27 PM

So, what you're saying is that we can pretty much expect the entirety of this week's edition to appear in next year's "regrets" issue?

Posted by COMTE | August 20, 2008 1:32 PM

The color of the hard hat, not the car, tells you everything: White hats are bosses. Yellow hats are workers.

For example, I have a white CL car, but a yellow hat. I am absolutely nobody's boss. In fact, I'm pretty much the bottom of the barrel, hierarchy-wise.

But I'm glad your power got put back up. They really should add that part of the hill to the downtown network.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | August 20, 2008 1:32 PM

And this is special because?????

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | August 20, 2008 1:37 PM

I love it -- great story. Thanks for all your hard work!

Posted by kid icarus | August 20, 2008 1:39 PM

Come on, you guys are a professional operation now. At least spring for a generator.

Posted by tsm | August 20, 2008 1:45 PM

It's a heartwarming tale of a spirited group of newspaper people working against time and the odds to get that issueout on time!

Naomi Watts is unspeakably nuanced in her starring role as real-life Managing Editor Bethany Jean Clement!

Wonder at Edward Norton in the role of his career as publisher Tim Keck!

And in a role originally offered to Heath Ledger, Zach Ephron dons a kooky tie and is transformed into Wunderkind editor Christopher Frizelle.

Look for Robert Downey Junior in a surprise cameo as sex-columnist Dan Savage!

Posted by it'smarkmitchell | August 20, 2008 1:49 PM

@16, that is called a "straight to video" release. Then off to the $2.99 discount bin at Blockbuster Video.

Posted by Whitworth Fag | August 20, 2008 1:52 PM

you still have a print product?

Posted by rss | August 20, 2008 2:03 PM

I must say, Stranger heads, for all the crap I give you... this was a truly impressive salvage job in what, for many, would've been an impossible situation. Excellent work.

Posted by Gomez | August 20, 2008 2:05 PM

Kick-ass story, and a great off-the-cuff recovery. Moving the whole production to the living room -- genius.

It's totally unrealistic to expect a small office like that to have a generator backup, but it's NOT unrealistic to at least have some UPS/battery backups so you can shut down, or even work for a half hour. They're not that expensive. I really, really hope your servers are on one.

Posted by Fnarf | August 20, 2008 2:12 PM

Fnarf @20: We have lots of battery backups, but not every machine is on one. The servers of course are. They give us enough time to shut them down gently, but not much more. Once SCL pulled the plug completely, we were sunk, as the batteries had already been strained in the first outage, and powering up several power-hungry Mac Pros is more than those batteries can do.

If we had moved all of our batteries around the office, we might have been able to get a few machines up for long enough to move some files around. It was easier to just move the computers to a reliable power source.

Posted by Anthony Hecht | August 20, 2008 2:21 PM

Way to go, and you still managed to slog election night to boot. The two dailies, with all their redundant IT glitter, covered nothing on their websites last night except for raw results.

Good thing for gas-powered private vehicles and plastic bags.

Posted by Joe M | August 20, 2008 2:25 PM

great story... thanks!

Posted by infrequent | August 20, 2008 2:37 PM

Reminds me of the days of my highschool paper/yearbook crew! Great job to everyone, and it all sounded like fun too! Can't wait to get my hands on the new Stranger tonight!

Posted by Angelika | August 20, 2008 2:52 PM

You know, if you used a real OS like Linux or Mac, you would have finished rendering and saved the file a heck of a lot quicker.

Just sayin.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 20, 2008 3:06 PM

Hey would it be unrealistic to have bicycle messengers on standby to power up the office with Gilligan style bike generators?

Come on Stranger. Get your sh#t together.

Great job and story.

Posted by Drawmark | August 20, 2008 3:11 PM

You guys proofread?

Posted by PA Native | August 20, 2008 3:14 PM

looks like some of your bikers need helmets.

outside of that, that's a great feat you pulled off. nice work!

Posted by donte | August 20, 2008 3:22 PM

You shouldn't have bothered. I didn't even feel like reading it.

Posted by patrick | August 20, 2008 3:31 PM

Wasn't this an episode of Lou Grant about 30 years ago?

Posted by elswinger | August 20, 2008 3:32 PM

Chris Kraft: "This could be the worst disaster NASA's ever experienced."

Gene Kranz: "With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour."

- NASA Flight Directors, "Apollo 13"

Posted by yelahneb | August 20, 2008 3:51 PM

@25 - Look at the pictures more closely.

Posted by Anthony Hecht | August 20, 2008 3:59 PM

Zak Efron does NOT have an enormous whatchamahoosits...he's not fit to play the part in any sense of the word.

Posted by michael strangeways | August 20, 2008 4:25 PM

more importantly... THE LIQUER STORE WAS CLOSED!!!

Posted by um | August 20, 2008 4:36 PM

Unionize. That'll show Tim and Dan who has the power NEXT TIME.

Posted by Syawegnarts | August 20, 2008 4:43 PM

@25 - .

Posted by Fnarf | August 20, 2008 4:47 PM

Um yeah, @25, we're all Mac here. But even Macs don't work without power.

Posted by Mary T | August 20, 2008 5:42 PM

I have the only PC in the oo-o-ooffice, 'cept for Tone, but his is just for testing. :P

Posted by Nay | August 20, 2008 6:05 PM

@33, Christopher Frizelle has an enormous whatchamahoosits?!?! Is that what you're implying here, Mr. Strangeways?

Posted by borgboi | August 20, 2008 6:11 PM

Way, way, way too much detail here. Is all of that bold type so necessary? I'm sure it was exciting for the Stranger gang, but not that captivating for anybody else, sorry.

My power went out a few months ago, and I was on deadline too. Do you want the 1200 word version? I know you'll dig it. And I have several awesome photos of me and my dead computer that I could show you. See what I mean?

Posted by We are powerless! | August 20, 2008 6:32 PM

40 - Yes!! Link to your blog.

Posted by Liston | August 20, 2008 7:57 PM

Good work all of you. What a damned stressful time.

Posted by Sam | August 20, 2008 9:53 PM

Is it just me or is the Stranger's print edition a bit small these days?

Just a few years ago Savage would run a weekly comparison of the Stranger and the Weekly's print editions. Of course the Stranger was always the larger of the two. These days they're both very small.

Sad to see the dead tree versions of newspapers wither away...

Posted by Bran | August 20, 2008 11:21 PM

Nice! Boo to the people who read it and then bitched about reading it--some of us love a behind-the-scenes story.

Out of curiosity, what's the story with having individual sections saved to personal hard drives as well as the shared drive?

I mean, obviously it saved some asses in this particular situation, but it seems like a recipe for shit getting out-of-sync and bad-redundant really quickly; if I started saving work-in-progress to my personal hard drive instead of the shared drive, I'm fairly sure my coworkers and boss would drown me.

Posted by Christin | August 21, 2008 7:21 AM

Very impressive. Hi to Shena from Burlington, VT!

Posted by Cathy Resmer | August 21, 2008 10:06 AM

It was an exiting adventure in publishing, and we all kicked ass.

Posted by Grant Brissey | August 21, 2008 4:46 PM

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