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The Millennium Is Now

Y2K Success at The Times: The newspaper has studied its computers and software, updated or replaced whole systems and now uses a trial run to make sure it's immune to millennium bug.

January 01, 2000|JENNIFER PENDLETON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Los Angeles Times is ready for the year 2000.

The proof: You're reading this story.

In an effort to ensure that the presses will roll without a hitch as the calendar advances into the next century, The Times underwent a major test of the newspaper's Y2K readiness Sept. 26 and produced this eight-page newspaper.

About 60 Times employees from editorial, advertising and all phases of production came to work in the wee hours of Sunday morning to crank ahead all the computer clocks and put out a paper.

"We're have a great New Year, all systems are go," said Judy Kallet, a senior vice president and chief information officer for The Times.

It was the culmination of a process that started in January 1998. That's when Y2K project manager Niko Ruokosuo, director of publishing systems and pre-press, received a special assignment from The Times' senior management team: Assemble an organization to guarantee that the newspaper will be able to publish without disruption on Jan. 1, 2000. On that date, computers which were programmed some years ago--and not updated for this event--might mistake the 00 of the 2000 date for 1900. Affected computers might then malfunction, believing that their clocks have been set back.

This so-called millennium bug has sparked widespread concern that our computer-dependent society might be thrown into a tailspin on New Year's Eve, resulting in everything from mass failures of public transit to power outages to disabled automated tellers at banks and stores. For The Times, the worst-case scenario: failing to get out the paper to its millions of readers.

The Sept. 26 test started at 3:45 a.m., when all departments rolled over their computer clocks as if it were 11:45 p.m. on Dec. 31. In 15 minutes would come the witching hour, at least for test purposes.

The display advertising department was up first. At 4:15 a.m., the department entered ads into the Times system. Then all other key departments of the paper, from classified advertising to editorial to page makeup, filed their elements into the appropriate systems, as they do each day. By 10 a.m., the presses rolled, until this newspaper, bearing the faux Jan. 1, 2000, date, ended up bundled at The Times' Olympic and Orange County plants' loading docks about 11:30 a.m.

This special edition of The Times was designed to replicate all the key elements contained in the paper. Page 1, for example, is an editorial four-color page laid out partly manually and partly digitally; in contrast, Page 2 is a black-and-white inside page containing an ad pasted up manually. The rest of the pages contain a selection of diverse elements.

"Although we've tested the systems independently, we want to make sure they interact correctly," said Michael O'Hara, Y2K project lead.

Preparing for Y2K is one of the largest challenges The Times has faced over the years, ranking alongside other demanding technological changes at the paper. That has included the introduction of color, the conversion from hot to cold type, and the opening of the Olympic plant.

Newspaper veteran Ruokosuo thinks it's the biggest challenge ever. "This is companywide. Every department is impacted," he said. Also, unlike other tasks, this has a make-or-break deadline. "If you delay moving from hot type to cold type by three weeks, what's the big deal? But here, it would mean we're out of business," Ruokosuo said.

It's been an undertaking of massive scale.

"Y2K is mainly a software bug, so that's the natural place to look. But what may get overlooked is that software can also be embedded within integrated circuits on chips," said Eddy Azad, president of Parsec Automation, a Brea, Calif.-based business automation consultant to The Times. "It's possible you could have some nasty issues you're not prepared for."

The Times took Azad's advice. Over the past 18 months, the paper has inventoried and checked 4,000 personal computers and 800 hardware and software systems companywide.

A Huge Undertaking

It has meant scrutinizing every device containing an embedded computer chip--that includes parts of the infrastructure, such as elevators, air conditioning and security systems, in addition to the thousands of computer terminals and pieces of software within The Times' far-flung operations.

In addition to headquarters at Times Mirror Square, The Times has production facilities in the San Fernando Valley and Orange County as well as at the Olympic production plant. Fifty editorial bureaus are scattered throughout the state, nation and world. Nationwide, there are a dozen advertising offices.

The Y2K challenge has been particularly daunting because no company--not even an organization with its own power generators and water reserves like The Times--is an island when it comes to the millennium bug.

"We felt it was very important to have Y2K certification with the vendors we do business with for all our critical production systems," said Kallet.

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