The Journal & Tioga Tribune

If you’re reading this, it’s a minor miracle

Whines & Roses

By Cecile Wehrman

By Cecile Wehrman

If you’re reading this in printed form, it’s a miracle. If you’re reading this online, you either have power or you’re making frequent trips to your car to charge your smartphone — or better yet, you have managed to escape to some place where power is still on.

To say putting out two newspapers was a challenge without power at our main office in Crosby is an understatement. Even with the kindness of Divide County commissioners to allow us to set up shop at the courthouse — which, thankfully, is one of the few public spaces in Crosby with a generator — it’s been incredibly challenging.

Thankfully, we were a little prepared. While Brad took Divide County prom photos Friday night, I stayed late to set up news pages for Tioga and sent Jacob all of his edited stories, in anticipation we could lose power over the weekend.

On Saturday, as the blizzard began, I was finishing edits on Crosby’s stories and had those news pages at least fleshed out. Fortunately for us, Journal Production Manager Tia LaCombe is religious about having all of the interior ad pages set up before she leaves on Friday.

Once power came on in Tioga Sunday evening, Jacob worked most of the night to get his Tioga news pages done.

Brad and I spent Sunday afternoon driving in his pickup around Crosby, and also down the highway, to see what damage we could spot to power lines as well as people out moving snow — but not before we headed to the New Century Ag Truck Stop, which, thankfully, had coffee!

Jacob did as much as he could without a four-wheel-drive vehicle at his disposal in Tioga, in addition to each of us monitoring Facebook posts from all over the region.

To say people were hungry for news was an understatement.

As soon as Brad texted me the first photos of downed and snapped poles in Crosby, midmorning, it was nonstop sharing by folks who found the post on Facebook — 115 shares as of 8 p.m. Sunday. But that pales in comparison to the more than 1,100 re-shares in less than 12 hours of the information we got from MDU Sunday evening about northern towns possibly being without power for a week.

Through the afternoon, in addition to taking photos east and west of Crosby and all around town, I was able to connect by either phone or email with representatives from three utilities — Burke-Divide Electric, Mountrail-Williams Electric and Montana-Dakota Utilities — in order to share the distressing news many of us will be without power for a lengthy period.

For MDU, this is unprecedented damage, and for BDEC, easily the worst damage since 2011 — if not worse. It’s crazy to have the sun shining and roads clear but no power or heat.

Following our newsgathering efforts Sunday afternoon, Brad and I warmed leftover spaghetti on the barbecue grill. We began discussing how, in reality, we were going to layout two papers from the courthouse, let alone get anything from our phones onto a computer, or any emailed copy from phones to computer short of transcribing them.

At this point I have to say that cellphones are an amazing invention. All of the newsgathering we did on Sunday was disseminated entirely by smartphone — testing photos, writing copy on the phone’s notepad, then pasting into our website.

I am only sorry that the difficulty of working with such a small screen made it impossible to share more than a couple of photos over the weekend, other than on Facebook.

As happy as I am to have had a cellphone to accomplish our work on Sunday, publishing stories to a website using a six-inch screen instead of a 20-inch monitor and a keyboard felt a little like chiseling in stone, but it worked!

As I write this Sunday, sitting in our driveway with a laptop plugged into a power inverter in the pickup, I honestly don’t know how layout is going to work tomorrow morning. We’ve never had to move our office brain — dubbed Calvin in honor of Journal founding publisher Cal Andrist — let alone plug it into a computer at a remote spot and hope they recognize each other. It will either be simple or impossible. No way of knowing until we try — and, I suspect, no in-between.

I was lucky back in 2011 to have been out of town when that horrible storm hit Crosby and people were not only without power, but also water — other than that bubbling up from the saturated water table.

We’re honestly incredibly lucky to have all the technology we have and the services we too often take for granted — especially in a state where it could have easily been below zero the last few days rather than near freezing.

I hope by this time next week things are back to “normal” but I am not counting on it.

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