Working together: News outlets move past rivalries to covering California’s deadliest fire

November 19, 2018

The editorials of California’s McClatchy papers sound as one. USA Today Network has sent reporters in from half a dozen states to help its northern California newsrooms. The editor of the Chico newspaper has distributed lists of the nearly 1,300 people missing to other outlets to work together on finding them.

Bit by bit, in the days following the deadly Camp Fire, California newsrooms have been applying lessons learned in disasters such as Hurricane Maria.

Their takeaway: Work together.

The Sacramento, Modesto and Fresno newspapers have been combining their editorial on the fire and sharing stories, said Lauren Gustus, the editor of the Sacramento Bee who also oversees McClatchy’s properties in the West.

USA Today network reporters are not only helping the Redding and Salinas newspapers on site, but beat reporters from places such as the Arizona Republic are focusing on California’s troubled utilities, which are at the center of a nascent probe into the Camp Fire.

Banding together, the papers may help the region focus on the recovery, not the political back and forth. That’s the hope of David Little, editor of newspapers in Chico, Oroville and Paradise — the town that Camp Fire destroyed.

Ten of his employees have lost their homes to fire, Little told CNN’s Reliable Sources. Little has led other outlets to focus on tracking down the missing and on the, as he tweeted, “25,000 suddenly homeless people here who need all the help they can get.”

In the middle of the crisis, Little, like other newsroom leaders, has thanked other newsrooms that sent lunch and dinner to their staffers throughout the crisis.

More must happen, all agree.

In Puerto Rico, major media outlets banded together last year for a special event, broadcast and streamed throughout the region, to jointly question officials and utilities on the disaster, the recovery and the region’s vulnerability in the future.

“It really was a show of force,” said Luis Alberto Ferré Rangel, who was editor of Puerto Rico’s biggest paper, El Nuevo Dia, at the time. Ferré Rangel, now at the paper’s parent company, added that the collaboration with onetime rivals is a part of the island’s media playbook if another major storm strikes.

Senior editors in California say they have been discussing various other joint efforts as well. Stay tuned.

Related stories

WILDFIRES (AND JOURNALISM) CHANGING: San Francisco Chronicle editor Audrey Cooper explained how California’s increasingly broad and deadly fires have prompted a move from formulaic writing to all-in planning and execution. She hails touches of humanity, such as when Chronicle photographer Jessica Christian put her cameras to the side last week to hug a Camp Fire survivor. “Some editors might cringe at a journalist inserting herself into a situation instead of recording it,” Cooper told her readers. “It made me cry. I am so proud of her.” (Here’s how Cooper and the LA Times’ Shelby Grad described their initial coverage of the latest huge California fires.)

HOMEWARD, BOUND: He’s one of 25,000-some people driven from their homes from the Camp Fire. He wanted to see the ash that remained. He was respectful. He ended up in handcuffs. By The Sacramento Bee’s Marcos Bretón.

TIME TO GO: Heartbreaking video of evacuees told to “move on” from their refuge in a Walmart lot in Chico. From Kelly Jordan for the Redding Record Searchlight.

THE READ: Rachelle Sanders had been resting after giving birth to a 6-pound, 5-ounce boy via C-section. Orderlies came into her room, hustled mom and baby into a wheelchair, placed them in a strange white sedan, put her IV tube on the rear-view mirror and told her: “Go with David,” the stranger on the left. As they raced against advancing flames from the Camp Fire, Sanders made this stranger promise: If the fire overtakes us, take my baby and run. By Lizzie Johnson for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Quick hits

ZUCK’S GAG ORDER: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg told company employees he would not hesitate to fire them if they were talking to The New York Times or other newsrooms. The comment came during a company meeting prompted by an NYT investigation of Facebook and its questionable PR practices.

PROFITING FROM LIES: These people spread lies to stir up America and make money — and these people believe them. By Eli Saslow.

REPORTER ARRESTED: BuzzFeed’s Blake Montgomery was arrested and jailed in Seattle attempting to contact an interview subject at his home. BuzzFeed tells The Stranger that the arrest was "an outrageous and disproportionate response to a reporter doing his job." Montgomery was investigating the death of the man’s partner after controversial silicone injections not approved by the FDA.

‘TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF’: That’s the only ice-breaker you’ll ever need, says Terry Gross, host and co-executive producer of NPR’s “Fresh Air.”

DANGEROUS: An environmental journalist in Liberia was sentenced to 5,000 years in prison. A Canadian reporter was arrested and urged to inform on environmental protestors. Forty reporters around the world died between 2005 and September 2016 because of their environmental reporting — more journalists than were killed covering the U.S. war in Afghanistan. By Eric Freedman for The Conversation US.

BIG FOOD NEWS: The LA Times hired Bill Addison of Eater and Patricia Escárcega, formerly the food critic for the Phoenix New Times, as restaurant critics. Lucas Peterson of Eater will also host a video series and contribute.

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