Nevada Newspaper Responds to Wildfire With Blog

By: Charles Geraci

After a wildfire ripped through Carson City, Nev., for six straight days, the Nevada Appeal supplemented its daily print edition with its first Web log.

The Appeal (Click for QuikCap) posted frequent updates, often every 10 minutes, on its Web site, Until the fire was put out on July 20, the blog provided information on areas threatened by the blaze and locations where people were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses. Readers could also list comments on a message board if they needed assistance or were able to provide help.

Though the newspaper office was never in danger, the fire could be seen moving down a nearby hill, and at one point, was only two blocks away, said Kirk Caraway, the Appeal’s Internet editor.

“Street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood, our staff was working extremely hard covering the fire,” said Barry Smith, the paper’s editor. “The newsroom was really turned toward reporting for the Web site. We pretty much repackaged things for the paper.”

The site “went down a few times,” according to Caraway, who worked to keep it up and running under the strain of heavy traffic. On the peak day, the site had 166,000 page views; the site has 10,000-12,000 on a normal day.

Despite the minor complications, Smith said his paper’s blogging experiment was “definitely a success.” Publisher John DiMambro received numerous congratulatory letters, phone calls, and e-mails from city and state officials and people all over the country. He noted that the paper “cemented an entirely new audience with the Internet.”

“The Internet is a very powerful tool and when used properly, it can take the place of TV any day of the week,” DiMambro said. “It’s becoming an indispensable forum for news and information.”

The main additional cost to the newspaper from all of the blogging and continual updates was slightly more than $2,000 in overtime pay to the staff.

But despite the marginal increase in expenditures for the Appeal, DiMambro recommended blogging for newspapers and said frequent updates should occur for “anything that seriously affects the lives of local people.”

Editor Smith added, “Blogging is a good way to go to get information up quickly if it’s changing rapidly.” He said the coverage of the fire helped convince the staff that “newspapers can compete with broadcast on breaking news through their Web sites.”

The Appeal’s print circulation is about 17,000.

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