October 24, 2007

Today's Front Pages Analysis

Covering Calif. fires: reporting beyond ‘what’ to ‘how,’ ‘why’

Day three of the California wildfires was covered in up-to-the-minute reporting on the Internet, radio and cable. The evening network news was broadcast live from Southern California.

How did newspapers distinguish themselves?

The Los Angeles Times front page was primarily about the fires, with photos from up high and down low. Times stories examined preparedness in the region and “Why some averted disaster.” The San Diego Union-Tribune led with “Help from above” — a reference to additional air crews, reinforcements in the firefighting ranks and improving weather conditions.

The New York Times looked at the randomness of the destruction: “Victims in Wildfires’ Fickle Path say, ‘Why Me?’” The Washington Post described how Southern California is coping in “a distinctly California style”: “In the Great State of Serenity, Staying Cool Amid the Flames.”

The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif., said: “Wildfires’ epic ruin blamed on heat, drought, wind, people.” The Hartford (Conn.) Courant broke out the news from California but focused on drought and climate change as “More fuel for Wildfires.”

The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin of Ontario, Calif., proclaimed: “Scorched Earth.” It used the page to feature highlights and refer to a special section inside the paper and timely updates on its Web site.

Some headline writers seized on a fire crew’s description of the flames as unstoppable; others focused on the exodus out of the region. “‘We can’t stop it,’” the Ventura County (Calif.) Star said. Reporters for The Desert Sun of Palm Springs, Calif., said evacuees were finding safety in their area.

The Orange County (Calif.) Register centered its page around a satellite photo that showed smoke being blown offshore by Santa Ana winds. Newspapers in other places also used a satellite photo. In Virginia, The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk used an aerial photo from San Diego County and pulled the quote: “‘It’s like a bomb went off.’”

kkennedy@freedomforum.org Kate Kennedy is front-pages editor at the Newseum.

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