Emergency forum to learn Cumbria flooding lessons

The
vital role regional newspaper websites played after the devastating
floods in Carlisle knocked out the rest of the media is to be
highlighted at a top level meeting on the disaster.

Cumbrian
Newspapers editorial director Keith Sutton believes the internet’s
ability to keep the public informed in a crisis is one of the major
lessons the press and the emergency services can learn from the floods.

It will be one of the issues raised at a meeting of the newly formed Regional Media Emergency Forum in Cumbria on 15 February.

The
forum is for representatives of the media, government, police and
emergency services to discuss the implications of disasters.

The
meeting will examine the huge impact the floods had on communications
and the media after an electricity power station, feeding 15
sub-stations, flooded. Mobile phones, television and radio transmitters
were knocked out and the power to Cumbrian Newspapers’

new £5
million printing press was cut, costing the daily News & Star all
but a few thousand of its Saturday 8 January edition on the day after
the floods.

Sutton will be stressing the importance the internet
sites of the News & Star and weekly Cumberland News played in
getting information to the public and how they broke through the news
blackout.

This was reflected in website use: the News & Star
site got 1.7 million hits – eight times its average figure. The
Cumberland News website recorded 250,000 hits.

“Many residents
had little idea of the scope of the disaster because they had been
unable to see pictures or get authoritative news since the Friday and
Saturday nights,” Sutton said.

“The emergency services rushed to
get on the radio which nobody could hear. This disaster showed the
importance of getting information out and the emergency services should
be aware of the importance of the internet.”

Although BBC radio
stations also have their own websites, Sutton said newspapers often had
more editorial staff to draw on. In his case 50 journalists across the
region.

A request for pictures put out on the News & Star ‘s
website produced hundreds of shots from readers. One of the first
showed a submerged ambulance and made the front page of the News &
Star -that-never-was on Saturday when the press failed.

The paper published a special eightpage insert of readers’ pictures.

Sutton
claims the media will have to become more aware of how to deal with
such disasters in the future as flooding is predicted to increase. An
emergency generator that would have kept his presses rolling after the
power failure would cost around £100,000.

Sutton believes the
national press has underplayed the Carlisle flood story: “This has
affected 35,000 homes, closed schools and businesses, lead to mass
evacuations, homlessness and two drownings. The damage has been
estimated at a quarter of a billion pounds This is far bigger than
Boscastle and on a scale with foot and mouth.”

Copy sales

NEWS AND STAR FLOOD SALE SETS RECORD

Even in a multi-media age, it is newspapers the public turn to after a disaster.

Sales of the News & Star and Cumberland News broke all records in the aftermath of the floods.

Sutton
said: “I think people just wanted to see the floods in words and
pictures and it is important that we got the right tone in our
coverage.”

The News & Star ‘s first edition on the Monday
after the floods outsold later editions and has become a souvenir of
the disaster. It featured a photograph of a father wading through a
street of water and carrying his two-year-old daughter. On that day the
News & Star sold a record 61,610 copies. This compares with the
previous year’s figure on the corresponding day of 26,000. Tuesday’s
News & Star sold 32,231 and the weekly average was 35,264.

The
weekly Cumberland News featured a poster front page of pictures
headlined “City of Heroes” and sold 43,724 copies, the highest in the
paper’s history.

A Western Morning News special on the day after the Boscastle flood last August increased sales by 37.5 per cent.

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