Saturday, 1 October 2011

What got me thinking was the Day Fire

Yet news coverage of the Day Fire was notably minimal — even as rivers of dark smoke flowed over the heads of millions, and ash fell like snow. Why?

One reason was geography. The Day Fire burned across the Sespe Wilderness and the southern districts of the Los Padres National Forest, which together comprise one of the largest roadless regions in the continental U.S. — even though it's under the northwest approach path to Los Angeles International Airport.

Another reason was the continued decline in the ability, and willingness, of local media to provide serious coverage of breaking news. The Ventura County Star covered the story aggressively. (And still is.) The Los Angeles Times did a good job too. Here in Santa Barbara, the News-Press is currently at war with its editors (25 so far have resigned) and its Day Fire coverage consisted mostly of Associated Press stories.

TV stations confine most live news coverage to news slots, and coverage — though often vivid — is short on useful details (yet long on advertising and network show promos disguised as news).

There's only one regional news radio station with enough staff to assign reporters to the fire. That's KNX/1070 in Los Angeles. The station had some Day Fire coverage, but it was usually buried amidst coverage of other stuff happening in the country's largest radio market. Ventura's KVTA/1520 did the best it could with minimal staffing. In Santa Barbara, KZSB/1290 is a news station in name only, carrying BBC feeds and audio capsules of stale news from the morning paper, which is written yesterday.