Wick Communications

Doing anniversaries right

In journalism on June 23, 2016 at 2:17 pm

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Want to know why someone would buy the local newspaper? Take a look at the June 12 edition of the Sierra Vista Herald. Above the fold, six columns and six inches deep is a five-year-old photo of black smoke accompanied by these words:

Five years ago today, a blaze started just north of the border with Mexico. The Monument Fire, as it came to be called, burned more than 30,000 acres and left a lasting impact on Sierra Vista and the surrounding area. But amid the chaos of lost homes, fierce flames and billowing smoke, a community rallied together. Five years later, we share some of those stories.

Below are breakouts on animal evacuees, fire chiefs, businesses, families who lived through it and more. The newspaper created a hashtag, #5YRFIRE, so that readers could share their photos online. There is a QR code inside that takes readers to YouTube interviews with people who lived through the Monument Fire.

I was humbled to see such fine, thoughtful work about an event that changed the community forever. Far too many news teams would have let this slide or written a 15-inch story with a single horizontal photo remembering something that couldn’t possibly be contained that way. …

Managing Editor Liz Manring refuses to take much credit. She says the planning started later than you might think and was sparked by a reader.

“In late May, I got an email from a reader. It was a hilarious picture of his cat with the fire in the background,” she said. The email noted the upcoming anniversary. “It really wasn’t the best picture of the fire, however…”

It made her think. Photographer Mark Levy pulled out the file photos. Staffers who remembered the fire, like Derek Jordan and Eric Petermann, might have had a leg up, but interns Andrew Paxton and Karen Schaffner “brought fresh eyes” to the reporting, Liz said.

Liz said there has been a lot of interest in the coverage online, particularly on Facebook. She hasn’t heard a lot of direct feedback from readers and there may be a reason for that. She said a member of the newspaper’s reader advisory board told her the fire was still such a painful memory that many didn’t want to talk about it.

It’s a great, great local newspaper package with super social engagement.

Clay

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