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Down at the Khyber 

Behind the scenes at The Coast's temporary office.

click to enlarge Our office was in the swath of Halifax left powerless by the hurricane. - GRAHAM PILSWORTH
  • Our office was in the swath of Halifax left powerless by the hurricane.
  • Graham Pilsworth

Tuesday morning I was helping set up The Coast’s emergency office, and there were computer problems. We’d taken over the Khyber Digital Media Centre, lugging a few computers from our powerless north end office to join this electric oasis on Barrington Street, but the two systems clashed. While I maxed out my editor skills trying to sort things out, Coast staffers tried not to lose their patience, and the room got crowded with wires and boxes and chairs and frustration. To complicate the scene, Khyber customers kept coming in off the street hoping to check their e-mail or otherwise use the Media Centre. At first, to deal with these people, we would explain the situation and suggest alternatives. However, politeness eroded as tensions increased. I noticed the latest interloper standing stunned in the doorway and barked, “We’re closed today” at him. “But I run the place,” he said. Meet Shawn McLeod, Khyber Digital Media Centre coordinator and honourary Coast tech guru.

As a weekly newspaper, The Coast has developed a strict routine that shapes the entire organization. Instead of a large staff that could put out a paper in one day, we’ve got a small group of people who use the whole week to get an issue together. The typical cycle starts Thursday morning: While the distribution crew delivers the paper around Halifax, in the office there’s a meeting to plan what stories will be in next Thursday’s issue.

Last Thursday at the editorial meeting, talking about the issue you’re looking at, we decided to put Lederhosen Lucil on the cover, with stories about her and other Ladyfest acts inside. The other big news was Thom Fitzgerald’s movie The Event, opening within the issue’s October 2 to 9 window. By late Friday afternoon, art director Dustin York had a line on a Lucil cover photo, and we allotted space to a major Fitzgerald feature writer Andrea Methot had been working on since the Atlantic Film Fest. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turned out, Juan thing lead to another. Monday, our office was in the swath of Halifax left powerless by the hurricane. Coast president Catherine Salisbury, publisher Christine Oreskovich and I met in Salisbury’s apartment and decided to hold off for a day and hope for a full recovery before heading into crisis mode.

Tuesday morning we went into crisis mode.

We’d heard the Khyber Centre for the Arts had power, and artistic director Chris Lloyd was accommodating when publisher Oreskovich called him at 8:50am. Coast staff were contacted when possible—these efforts thwarted by both Eastlink’s troubles and the trend towards electricity-dependent cordless phones—and told to gather at the Khyber. With Shawn McLeod’s help the computer system limped into action, and a phalanx of chargers kept the cell phones chirping. Word got around and more Coast employees arrived. Around noon, the satellite office was in such good shape that it expanded out of the second-floor Media Centre and upstairs to the Khyber’s Turret Room. (Thanks again, Khyber, and sorry about the mess.)

Finally we could get down to the work of putting the issue together, but Lederhosen Lucil didn’t feel right on the cover. Editorial staff decided to go down to the Khyber bar on the first floor to plan hurricane coverage. There’s a real thrill when you’re responding to a disaster on a tight deadline, and a friendly Khyber waiter brings you drinks. The best part of the meeting, however, was the freelance reporters who turned up in person because the blackout cut off the usual phone or email lines of communication. Our virtual workforce was suddenly real, come together with the rest of the staff to rebuild after a storm. The Coast community wanted to defeat adversity so badly, we thought we could do a week’s work in two days. And if you’re reading this paper, then we were right.

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Vol 25, No 26
November 23, 2017

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