Charting the Coast: Getting the word out

By Charles Kocher, Pilot staff writer March 19, 2011 05:00 am

Amid all the official agency response to last week’s tsunami warning and damage, there were four businesses that went into overdrive to serve the community.

The crews at the Curry Coastal Pilot, The Daily Triplicate, KURY Radio and Bi-Coastal Media (KCRE and KPOD radio) all took our unofficial but very public roles in the events of the day very seriously, and very professionally.

We were all driven by the same goal: getting the warning and accurate information out to our friends and neighbors on the Wild Rivers Coast.

“We are tasked with getting things out,” Steve Braun of KURY said this week, reflecting on the long day he put in making announcements and doing interviews with those on the scene. “I always wonder if we’re missing someone. The whole public safety thing is real important.”

Braun got an early start on KURY because the station’s late-night staffer, Rob Brown, got a call from a friend just before 2 a.m. Friday. Braun stayed on the air, with only occasional breaks for music, until 3 p.m. Friday afternoon.

Much the same was true for Rene Shanle-Hutzell, who went on the air at KCRE in Crescent City for what would be an 18-hour day.

“Sometimes people laugh at small-town radio,” Shanle-Hutzell told The Daily Triplicate, “but that’s until you need small-town radio. We’re like one big megaphone for the community.”

With smart phones and social networking – and the Pilot’s widely used website – we were conscious at the Pilot of the same public safety responsibility. The sheriff called editor Scott Graves at 2 a.m. Friday, who in turn woke me up, and we went right to work.

The Pilot’s first News Alert was posted on our website and sent to 1,950 email addresses just before 3 a.m.

Our co-workers at The Daily Triplicate in Crescent City didn’t get the news until the tsunami sirens were sounded, and then they faced a larger challenge: Their downtown Crescent City office was in the evacuation zone.

Publisher Michele Thomas made arrangements to move the Triplicate operations to higher ground at the Del Norte School District office; editor Richard Wiens had 15 minutes to pack up equipment and make the move.

By dawn, all four news operations had taken up the same sort of operation: Every possible reporter was out on the scene, with someone back at the office to collect and get out information. At the Pilot, that hub was me – even though I was supposed to be on the road for meeting in Newport.

There is clear evidence that listeners and readers alike were anxious for the information and paying attention.

The Pilot’s website logged nearly 10,000 visits on Friday (up from a normal of about 1,900). Dozens of comments were made to our running report of events on the Facebook page. The videos the Pilot posted Friday on YouTube have been viewed more than 80,000 times.

Several times on Friday, the heavy web traffic overwhelmed the fileserver that hosts both websites. The Triplicate’s evacuation froze up both newspapers’ computer net- works for most of the day.

But when I made a final check- in call from Newport about 11 p.m., the Pilot was on the press in Smith River.

Both the Pilot and Triplicate increased their press runs significantly for Saturday, all papers were out on time, and both editions are basically “sold out.”

Like everyone involved, I’m proud of all the work that all four organizations did last Friday. Their dedication to these communities came through loud and clear.