How LANG “owned” coverage of Colby Fire and earthquake anniversary

January's Colby Fire (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin)
January's Colby Fire (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin)

This is the second in a series of Behind the DFMie reports on January’s DFMie winners. An earlier post detailed the Charleston Daily Mail’s coverage of the West Virginia water crisis. Other winners will be profiled in upcoming posts.

The Los Angeles News Group (LANG) won three DFMie awards in January.

Breaking news coverage of the Colby Fire in Angeles National Forest won the Metro DFMie for a staff effort and a Tout Bout for John Valenzuela. LANG’s cluster-wide DFMie was awarded for the staff’s non-traditional anniversary coverage of the devestating Northridge Earthquake.

Here is LANG executive editor Michael Anastasi‘s nomination for the Colby Fire coverage:

LANG deployed its full major story breaking-news mechanism in response to the Colby Fire on Jan. 16 & 17. LANG’s reporters and photojournalists ensured that we owned coverage of the blaze visually, socially and on all digital platforms.

Driven by our first coverage, LANG had 1.14 million total page views on Jan. 16, including:

  • 19,000 PVs on maps. A map showing the borders of the fire as well as all the locations of evacuation centers, closures, etc. quickly became a centerpiece of our fire coverage and was put together very quickly after the fire started.
  • 126,653 PVs on a gallery with 190 fire photos.
  • A liveblog that drew 4,702 uniques (7,692 PVs and 11.5 avg. min. on page) for 88,448 engagement minutes.
  • 32,597 people who came in through Twitter or Facebook for 155,134 PVs.
  • More than 15,000 total Tout views. We embedded staff Touts in article, home page widget, and re-packaged in overall video news report wrap up at end of day.

A judge’s comment on the winning entry:

This was a tremendous mobilization of multi-platform journalism during an extraordinary event.

The coverage was extensive, featuring both hard news items about the blaze, its suspects, and vital stories, commentary and information about its effects on the community and the community’s response.

The Tout videos were expertly produced with what must have been reels of digital footage from everyone in the LANG staff. They were combined with well-thought and spoken voiceovers — sometimes done on the fly — and showed a variety of harrowing scenes from all corners of the region. And every one fit precisely and wonderfully in Tout’s parameters. I was mesmerized by the variety of videos.

And, of course, it was all tied together by stunning, visceral photography that put you with the firefighters battling the blaze, with the displaced residents and among the community response.

Exceptionally well done. LANG indeed owned coverage of this catastrophic event.

Another judge (lightly edited):

My vote goes to LANG for its superb and thought-out coverage of the Colby Fire. LANG’s staff provided different and useful articles about the fire, the photographs in themselves told a story of the devastation caused by the blaze, and the countless videos produced were essential to show what was happening in the area. LANG’s work on the Colby Fire serves as a great example of what can be achieved by applying all the tools available to us.

The Colby Fire coverage also included the Tout Bout winner for videos shot in the Tout app.

John Valenzuela shot this video of the Singer Mansion after the fire:

A judge’s comment on Valenzuela’s video:

I vote for John Valenzuela’s Touts because they speak a thousand words in terms of illustrating the devastating effects of the fire.

Another judge:

It was an interesting look at the fire situation and the mansion which is probably well-known in the area. That damage is catastrophic! I liked how he used the pause-and-start option to grab quick snippets of different areas of the damage. That’s just the way the app should be used and he did a great job of capturing this story in 45 seconds.

Then-and-now photos of the Northridge Earthquake showed the devastation 20 years ago.

Then-and-now photos of the Northridge Earthquake showed the devastation 20 years ago.

Here is Anastasi’s nomination for the Northridge earthquake anniversary coverage:

The Northridge Earthquake was one of the most destructive temblors in U.S. History. It killed 57 people, destroyed or damaged some 90,000 homes and buildings – including the Los Angeles Daily News newsroom – and left thousands without water, power or roofs over their heads. Twenty years later its aftershocks are still felt in Los Angeles.

A team of Los Angeles News Group reporters, photographers and online staffers spent several months tracking down people whose lives were turned upside by the quake, looking at rebuilding efforts and examining whether buildings in the city are any safer today.

The result was a package that included multiple stories, columns, interactive graphics, photo galleries, videos and personal recollections from readers.

Among the highlights:

A judge’s comment on the earthquake coverage:

The Los Angeles News Group’s photo slider might be the only “fun” thing to come from the Northridge Earthquake. Compelling writing from Dana Bartholomew and Michael Anastasi (among others) takes us back to that chaotic January morning, but nothing tells the story quite like dragging the slider to reveal a gaping divide in the Golden State Freeway. A blend of well-executed traditional and digital storytelling tools set this entry apart.

Another judge:

The before-and-after images were striking and the interactive map was a neat tool to relay the memories people have of the earthquake. The breadth of the stories included in the package provided ample perspective from different sources, especially the column by Dennis McCarthy about the two boys born in the immediate aftermath of the quake. The coverage also included pieces about earthquake prediction and some suggestions on what to have prepared in the event of a temblor (which is a word I learned reading through the coverage). Excellent, multi-angle coverage of a supremely noteworthy historical event for their readers.

Here’s what Daniel Tedford, LANG’s news digital director, had to say about the earthquake project:

Nobody likes anniversary stories. That’s not completely accurate, but at times they feel more like obligation than journalism. So, when we embarked to do an anniversary story on one of the worst disasters in Southern California history, we thought about everything we have done and decided that was the problem. Anniversary stories feel stale because they have been done the same way over the years. We wanted to retell those stories in a new narrative. What came about were two things: Let people write their own stories via UGC, but pair that with geography. This allowed the stories to be personal, but it also helped show the scope of the earthquake.

Then we wanted to show the destruction, but it has been 20 years. Many people have forgotten, some weren’t alive or didn’t live in Los Angeles. We wanted to show the difference in the landscape from today to the aftermath of the quake. To do that, we used photo sliders that allowed a user to see an overlap of the same exact photo — one from 20 years ago and one from today. Without any text, I think this could have told the anniversary story.

There was a point where some maybe questioned how these photos could be interesting to readers or what kind of impact they could have. The work for this can often be labor intensive and command resources, so that can create skepticism. Before we launched a full-scale project to produce these, we did just one. This one prototype was much easier to accomplish and allowed us to show what we thought we could accomplish. It was enough to convince everyone and once they were on-board, we were able to dedicate resources to make things happen.

Sometimes it can be best to produce something on a small scale first. Not everyone can see your vision and explanations can seem hollow at times. Once they too can visualize it, people are more willing to adopt your vision.

Steve Buttry

By Steve Buttry

Steve Buttry is Digital Transformation Editor for Digital First Media. He oversees our efforts to transform newsroom operations and culture to more effectively pursue our digital goals. His duties include responsibility for social media and community engagement. He has visited most DFM newsrooms personally, leading workshops and coaching editors and other journalists in following the Digital First approach.

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