The New Unipresser (5/1/89)

Here's the May 1, 1989, edition of the in-house publication known then as The New Unipresser:

Berliner Moves Alaska Buro for Spill; AKE (DXP) Covers for Photos; Inman (DA) Provides Relief

Editor's note: When the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground and spilled millions of gallons of oil, UPI's Jeff Berliner was on top of the story. Here's his account:

With Exxon Valdez oil spreading unchecked across Alaska's Prince William Sound, it was clear that the Alaska UPI bureau would have to relocate from Anchorage to Valdez for a while.

Only a few small flights daily connected Anchorage and Valdez, and there were waiting lists to get on these chartered flights as journalists from around the world, experts of every sort, government officials and Exxon people poured into Anchorage trying to get to Valdez.

It didn't help when gale force winds kicked up and grounded planes for a day shortly after the spill.

Photographer David (DXP) Ake and I decided to make a speeding 7-hour drive when we couldn't be guaranteed a seat on one of the 50-minute flights; planes fly over the formidable mountains, cars take a detour. The all-night drive -- with entertainment from dancing displays of northern lights and caribou dashing across the road -- was a chilly one through zero cold in a rented car with a defective heater.

Once in Valdez, population 3,600, nestled up at the top of a fjord, we were in oil boomtown, USA. A flood of people caused a hotel room shortage: there was none. Bed and breakfast places opened and new ones popped up to meet demands.

My bed and breakfast discovery was unique -- it offered no bed and no breakfast. Actually, there was one bed, which Ake commandeered since I brought a sleeping bag in anticipation of landing on a floor somewhere. The floor was good for nine nights, but before my three-week stay was up, I would have to move into three more places -- with beds, but more importantly with phones.

Telephones were a real problem. So many people poured into Valdez and tried to call out, especially at the beginning, that lines were overloaded and just getting a dial tone was pure joy, an amazing feat that gave one a true sense of accomplishment.

Restaurants were packed and sometimes ran out of food. But none of this mattered. There was no time to eat or sleep. One shortage became critical: the crush of reporters with portable computers caused a run on batteries at the two grocery stores and one drug store.

Trying to cover the oil spill was akin to Exxon trying to clean it up -- it had so many constantly changing aspects that it was nearly impossible to contain.

A typical day began about 5 a.m., trying to get an early start on a daily sidebar to go with the main story. By 7 a.m., with the feature half-done, the Coast Guard was issuing its daily report, and Washington editors were waiting for a sked line to tell them what to expect that day.

At 8 a.m., the state Department of Environmental Conservation held a daily briefing. When it was over at 9 a.m., there was barely time for a few quick interviews before pounding out a story before the next events -- a news conference or two by Exxon or the Coast Guard or fishermen or Pentagon brass or the mayor of Valdez or environmentalists or visiting dignitaries.

By afternoon, a main story was written and filed along with a feature and then a rewritten lead, sometimes followed by a second sidebar.

Afternoons were critically important for interviews to avoid relying on news conferences and to get feature material for the next morning. Also this was almost the only opportunity to try to hitch rides in small planes to the spill.

Each evening by 7, I contacted editors to alert them to changs for PM papers before heading into the nightly science meeting, a source of material for features.

Like the spill, the story went on night and day, spreading hither and yon, with no opportunity to simply breathe a sigh of relief, sleep a full night, eat a leisurely meal, wash your hands of oil and say, that's that.

National reporter Bill (DA) Inman relieved Berliner on April 16 and continued to turn out play-winning copy.


For Your Information

New UPI Business Fairfax, Va., WGMU San Francisco, El Mensajaro Buffalo, N.Y., WIVB-TV Chicago, Korean Daily Washington, Knight-Tribune Wire Columbus, Ohio, Auditor Houston, Exxon Manaqua, Nicaraqua, Radio Sandino Recife, Brazil, Jornol do Comercio Sao Paulo, Brazil, Brazilian TV Record Fortaleza, Brazil, O'Povo Fortaleza, Brazil, Diario do Nordeste Lima, Peru, Cia Peruane de Radiofusion Renegotiated Business Parma, Ohio, WUAB Miami, WSUA Washington, Department of Transportation Sulfur Springs, Texas, KDXE Jasper, Texas, KTXJ Denton, Texas, KDNT Tampa, Fla., Sun Network

Hults Creates Sales Award

UPI sales chief Scott Hults has established a new incentive program for the company's force of 35 sales people.

Hults told his staff in a weekly conference call Monday, May 1, that the sales person who books the most new business in May will receive a Sony Discman portable compact disk player. The person who logs the most revenue increase from renegotiations will receive a Sony Watchman 4-inch television, and any sales person who signs up three or more new accounts will receive a Sony Walkman stereo player.

The May awards are in addition to the normal commissions paid to sales people.

"With the awards program, we are looking to encourage friendly competition among the sales staff while we continue to increase sales nationally.


Marge Boatright, sales director for the Southwest, has been named UPI sales person of the month for April.


New CustomCodes Adopted

Unipressers in the United States survived the most major change in the CustomCodes April 23, quickly adapting to the new system with only minor glitches.

The eight-character codes were revamped to make them more logical for staffers and easier to handle by clients.

The changes began at 3 a.m. EDT, in Dallas a few hours after a power blackout idled the entire computer system. When power was restored, the control desk quickly replaced several thousand programs with the revised codes, then spent 90 minutes activating the new codes at each client's location.

Assistant Managing Editor - Systems Jeff Field supervised the conversion at the Dallas control center, with help from Marcy Kreiter and Bob Kieckhefer from Chicago and Jack Wilkinson from Atlanta. They helped clients adjust their programs where needed, and generally made sure customers got the appropriate service.

In Washington, Steve Geimann, assistant managing editor - state and regional news, monitored the wires and helped deskers and bureaus in using the correct codes for stories and other items.

Within 48 hours, all bureaus had adapted to the new codes and were using the correct series of letters on most copy. A few old codes still sneaked onto the wire, but out of the thousands of stories filed daily these were few.


Lottery Enterprise in Pa.

UPI Pennslyvania spent most of the week tracking the rapidly growing Pennsylvania state lottery as it headed toward a North American record $115.5 million. In daily stories, the state provided main leads and many sidebars on the betting frenzy associated with any multimillion dollar lottery jackpot.

In Harrisburg, the state capital, reporter Justin Supon followed the betting while statehouse reporter Mackenzie Carpenter kept track of other news. A day after the big drawing, Carpenter went on a winner-patrol outside lottery headquarters in Middletown, south of Harrisburg, and fed quotes to Supon.

The state desk in Philadelphia quarterbacked coverage, and Alice Cantwell and Michael Dabney got quotes and color, including a piece on travelers detouring to Philadelphia to buy tickets. Paul Baker, one of two Philly staffers with legs in casts, worked the fones for sidebars on lottery fever, a seller catering to Delaware residents at his border line outlet and advice from a financial consultant on what to do if you win.

In Pittsburgh, indefatiguable Sheila Mullan provided quotes and color for Supon, including the tale of a state judge who bought $20 in tickets.

Four days before the drawing, Mullan sought quotes while on a lunch break when she noticed Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen approaching the ticket counter. She had to wait for the clerk to punch out the tickets anway, so she waited with a notebook perched on the ticket machine. "Give me $20" in tickets, Larsen said, then left.

"I was amazed to see the guy -- and asked the clerk, 'Wasn't that Rolf Larsen?'" Mullan said later, "The clerk laughed. 'Yes,' he said. We get everyone here.'

"Larsen walked out, then came back in, making grumblings to a friend about my 'being a reporter'; there was nothing he could do, I'd seen him hand the $20 over and was right there when he asked for tickets. Nevertheless, I high-tailed it out of there, since he obviously wasn't going to say anything further to me."

On Tuesday, as the jackpot reached $100 million, Mullan began a search for items that cost $100 million. Mullan began calling expensive car dealers, until state editor Bruce Cook suggested a more radical idea. "I suggest you get really wild stuff -- like try a realtor for a skyscraper price."

Mullan reports: "He was right. Chuck Moody-PS chipped in that Pirates baseball team was valued at $80 million recently, so we put that in the story. I put out a page, and Tom Burnett-CZ figured out that one would be able to play quarter slot machines for 63 years; Todd Spangler-CB noted that $100 million would be more than the entire gross national product of Tonga, citing the World Almanac."

The result? A snappy piece that led with the following shopping list: two of the world's most expensive art works, a PS skyscraper or the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The story got Mullan credit, by name, (and UPI of course) on the CBS Radio Network with Charles Osgood's "The Osgood file."

Meanwhile, the Bad Guys generated a depressing story on what $100 million WON'T buy these days, with the emphasis on high taxes.


Space Enterprise

Space reporters Bill Harwood and Rob Navias have scheduled an exclusive interview with the crew of the shuttle Atlantis in orbit. Harwood, the BW manager, and Navias, of the Radio Net, will question the astronauts from the control center in Houston on Sunday if launch occurs on Thursday.


WA Assesses Bush

On Sunday April 30, George Bush passed the 100th day of his presidency -- a milestone since FDR that has brought analyses of each succeeding new chief executive since the New Deal.

UPI Political Writer Joe Mianowany headed a project to outline what has been done during Bush's first 100 days, what still has to be approached and how Bush has changed the office of president. Joe, armed with his political coverage and interviews with a number of Washington leaders from all areas of the political scene, wrote the main lead that highlighted the package that moved for Sunday, April 30.

The package also included a look at the Bush style by UPI White House Reporter Helen Thomas, Dan Quayle's first 100 days, by Mianowany, Bush's relations with Congress by chief congressional correspondent Steve Gerstel, a chronology of the 100 days and a look at the campaign promises kept, broken or put aside.

On the issues, Mianowany put together with the help of all Washington reporters to a brief rundown on how Bush is doing in each major federal department. To expand on major issues, we ran sidebars on foreign policy by diplomatic reporter Jim Anderson, defense by Pentagon reporter Robert MacKay, the economy by business writer David Vessey, drugs by White House reporter Tom Ferraro and the environment by environmental reporter Georgeg Lobsenz.


Message of the Week:

wieck-da if'n yer interested: we had a satty nite exln for tax reform here. rox apparently decided notnot to send out running parish totals. We did. Guess whose stuff got used? cupla clis cald satty nite to thank me for it. u'd think with all their manpower, they cud've done tt simple fundamental thing. chrs, watsky-bg

Ahead in BH

A stringer at Boston University called NewEngland regional editor Charles Goldsmith with a tip on a plan by CU President John Silber to raise money by buying life insurance policies for students and alumni. Silbert was unavailable and BU officials initially refused to comment, but BH staffer Deirde Wilson finally got a university official to confirm the plan.

UPI's broadcast subscribers got th story a day before the competition got it, and Boston's two daily newspapers used portions of UPI's story in reporting the plan on page 1 the following day.

Special Tab Goes to Pubs

UPI flexed its breadth for America's newspaper publishers last week.

Unipressers from Maine to California chipped in to produce a snazzy, 32-page special edition of the UPI Advance that explored the problems of the newspaper business in all 50 states.

The special edition of the UPI Advance was printed tabloid-style by the Chicago Sun-Times and distributed to publishers who crowded into the Windy City April 23 for the annual ANPA convention.

The special UPI tabloid included individual stories on newspapering and readership from each state of the 50 states, a national overview, some interesting sidebars and a load of pictures and graphics.

It was a quality effort by a lot of Unipressers and it made a positive impression on the publishers. A week after the tabloid appeared, the publisher of the Parkersburg, W.Va., Sentinel asked for 20 copies.

Special kudos go to the two AME's: Michelle Mundth, who did the national roundup, and Steve Geimann, who coordinated the 50 state roundups.

Copies of the special UPI Advance will be mailed to all UPI bureaus.

Fun in Beijing

From Dave Schweisberg about coverage of the student demos in Bejing:

"I was out in our (tiny) Polish-built Fiat about 4:30 a.m. and a bunch of holigans running with the students surrounded it. They banged on it and told me to get out. They were laughing and all very good-natured, but thenn started rocking the car, chanting 1-2-3. I figured there was a better chance they would stop if I stayed inside. And finally a fellow stepped out and persuaded them I was a foreign friend. Then about 150 of them got behind the car and pushed it it, despite the brake, toward a police line. Fortunately the cops opened a hole for me and I squirted through. Then one cop asked: "What's your business here?" I honestly did not know. Anything in our health insurance to cover this?"