Computers play a central role in many organizations, and The Dispatch is no exception. We moved to desktop publishing more than 15 years ago, meaning we produce each printed newspaper on computer. We write stories on our computers, adjust photographs, correspond by email, visit websites and much more on a daily basis.
Much of the content we use is stored on a shared database. The first thing we do when we turn on our computers each day is log into the database. Then we start writing or editing stories and designing pages.
From time to time, the database suffers a hiccup. We may find ourselves booted off. The message that appears sounds rather ominous: The server has lost its heartbeat. Usually, we simply log back in and are quickly back in business.
Sometimes, a restart of the server that holds our database is required. This may force us to stop our work for 10 or 15 minutes, but again, once the server reboots, all is well. At least it usually is.
Fortunately, we retained access to our network and the Internet. Reporters were able to keep working on their local computers, and we even used email to send some stories to each other for editing. Wire copy was still available via web browsers even though we couldn't access it in the database.
By late that afternoon access to the database was restored. However, all the material that was stored was gone. We had to start from scratch.
Individual computers held backups of stories that had recently been worked on, so we were able to retrieve some files that way. Anything that had been published in the three years we've used this system was archived, and that material wasn't affected. But we realized some files were simply gone.
The lost file that initially bothered me the most contained my contact list. Some phone numbers had been in that file for years. Thankfully, I had a copy at home, although it was a year and a half old. Still, that's better than nothing.
Later I realized other files that I used regularly but often didn't change, meaning no backup existed, were gone. These files contained schedules, staff members' birthdays and other information. Then I discovered files I used only at certain times of the year had disappeared: a long file with recaps from all the Barbecue Festivals, a list of all the women who had been profiled in the Women's Section over the years and editorials that publish on specific holidays were gone.
Some of this I can recover form the archive or our online content management system. Others will have to be recreated. At this point, anything that doesn't mean starting from scratch is welcome.
I share our story as a reminder to take some basic computer precautions seriously. We're all told to save work in progress frequently. One never knows when the power might suddenly go out, a foot accidentally kicks the power cord out of the socket or some weirdness overtakes the computer. That wouldn't have helped us in this case, but it's good advice.
Make sure you have good backups. Much data is backed up to online services "in the cloud" these days. I have an external hard drive attached to my home computer. Even those of us who do perform regular backups are probably guilty of not checking them.
Keep vital files in more than one location. I'm kicking myself that I didn't have a copy of my phone list saved on my local computer; I do now. Backup locations can include the cloud, a flash drive, a disc or another device. Think about what files you would really miss should something catastrophic happen.
Thankfully, our database crash didn't prevent us from posting updates to our website Wednesday or putting out Thursday's print edition. We continue to work to make the database function as it did previously. But it's a process I hope we never have to repeat.
(c)2013 The Dispatch, Lexington, N.C.
Visit The Dispatch, Lexington, N.C. at www.the-dispatch.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services