About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies and startups. You can read more about me here.

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October 23, 2007


josh lucas

Hiya -

There is a news blog at the Times though I agree you can't find it from the front page:


As a point of disclosure, I work there.


Rebecca Coates Nee

Hi Mark - I've already posted a few of my thoughts on Poynter and Mindi McAdams' blog.
As a recovering journalist as well, a multimedia journalism professor at San Diego State and now a returned evacuee, I couldn't agree more with your assessment.
I live in Rancho Penasquitos - a community that borders Rancho Bernardo, which sustained the heaviest damage. A quick change in the wind and our neighborhood would have been demolished instead. After evacuating (with stellar help from local radio coverage) to my mom's in Palm Springs, I felt like I was in a black hole for information.
While the online features you mentioned were nice - there was NO specific information about the neighborhoods. Where was the hyperlocal journalism? It appeared no news was good news when it came to several neighborhoods that were evacuated. The coverage, even online, was heavy on drama but lacking in information for those of us who wanted to know if our house was still standing. The maps were the most helpful but most didn't mashup addresses of homes burned with the Google map. I had addresses but no real reference points. I knew more about Larry Himmel's future (a local reporter who lost his house) than I did my own.
Finally, the only real source of info came in those forums you mentioned on signonsandiego.com. They were well hidden, indeed, but I found my neighborhood and read accounts of people who had slipped back in before the evacuation order was lifted. That was the first real sense of relief I felt. All homes here appeared to be intact, not damaged.
There will be a lot of "shoulds" as we analyze the coverage - but each media outlet you mentioned could have easily posted links on their home page to specific evacuated neighborhoods with updates. When it was finally time to return home, the Union Tribune's traffic site hadn't been updated in two days!! I didn't even know if the Interstate was open - I had to rely on friends calling 511.
The physical newspaper really took a beating - figuratively and literally. I had a few ash-ridden copies in my driveway when I pulled up. I almost laughed at how ridiculous and old they seemed as I threw them in my sooty trash barrel. I am, however, looking forward to tomorrow's edition to get a complete wrapup of the week's ordeal - and, hopefully, much of the news I missed while I was busy being evacuated. I think that speaks volumes to the future of our business and newspapers in general. Maybe they still have a place - but not in the dirty driveways of evacuees!
Sorry this is long. Hope it helps!

Mark Potts

Rebecca: Terrific comment. Thanks very much. I've been busy this week and was distracted from doing an update to see if the coverage improved as the week went on (my impression was that, generally, it had--a bit). But your first-person account does a far better job of updating things than I could. Thanks, and glad to hear your home--if not the paper on your doorstep!--is safe.

Anne Krueger

Hi Mark,
When I covered the 2003 wildfires for the San Diego Union-Tribune, all we thought about was getting stories for the newspaper. It was totally different this time around. We were as concerned about getting the latest news on the Web as we were about the newspaper. All reporters were encouraged to post to the wildfire blog whenever we had a tidbit of information.
Our effort was appreciated by our readers. We got countless notes and e-mails telling us the blog was the most up-to-date and reliable source of information they found. The way we cover news has definitely changed.

Mark Potts

Thanks for the comment, Anne. You and your colleagues at the Union-Trib and other Southern California media did a fantastic and courageous job covering the fires. But your paper and others might have greatly multiplied your efforts by involving community members more in sharing their experiences of what was going on, and in highlighting that sharing on the Web site. As Becky and others have pointed out, that's where hyperlocal and user-generated coverage can really shine, and greatly augment the work of professional journalists.


The government needs to create a business incentive for private industry to come up
with a solution for this problem. Every year
the wild land fires and wild land urban interface fires are getting more and more expense to fight.

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