Y2K: 20 years later

Twenty years ago today,  we weren’t sure what was going to happen to the newspaper. It was New Year’s Eve, 1999, and for the past year, what was known as the Y2K bug was waiting to explode on us. Or be a non-event. We weren’t sure.

One of my first acts as editor of the News & Record in January 1999 was to announce to the newsroom that everyone would be working on New Year’s Eve. We didn’t need all of them to cover news; we had about 100 on staff then. Nothing ever happens on the typical New Year’s Eve other than drunken parties, wrecks and shootings. We wanted people there in case the worst happened: that our computers shut down.

As the minutes ticked down, we in the newsroom of the News & Record were excited and bored and nervous all at once. Like every other business in the United States that used computers, we had prepared for the possible catastrophe.

Cindy Loman, editor of the paper now, posted this article from 1998 last week about corporate efforts to address the problem. Our IT guys had worked all year preparing for the worst. We had patches, but we weren’t sure we needed them. We prepped for early deadlines, planning to produce one edition and get it off the press before midnight. Even if the system crashed, we’d have a paper to deliver Jan. 1.

Early in the day, we got encouraging signs. As the New Year dawned across the world, computers there didn’t suddenly crash at midnight. They continued working — plane didn’t fall out of the sky, power grids kept the lights on, and banks didn’t lose track of how much money you owed.

Midnight came and went, and our computers system didn’t notice. Cindy Loman describes the fizzle well.

The biggest debate seemed to be whether the millennium began in 2000 or 2001.

Our IT staff – and group of high-powered people representing each department — prepared our system well. Truth it, they did so well, I scarcely remember the witching hour itself.

I bought some non-alcoholic “champagne” to help the staff ring in the New Year’s. (I was too new of an editor to feel safe violating the company policy of forbidding liquor in the building.)