State of Washington newspaper’s ‘pretty amazing tale’ about dealing with the wildfires

Omak-Okanogan (Wash.) Chronicle editor and publisher Roger Harnack posted the note below on the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors listserv. The journalist who forwarded it writes in an email:

“Pretty amazing tale, and a good example of how the community press has different ethical standards than larger mainstream media — when your community is in crisis, you just do what needs done, and screw the Ivory Tower idealism about ‘detachment.’ There’s work to do.”

The editor/publisher’s note:

I have a great story to tell from the wildfires here in North-Central Washington. I’m sure by know you know our fires have burned more than 250,000 acres and are the largest in the state’s history. And I’m sure you know that as the newspaper of record in the county most effected, we were right in the thick of things as journalists.

Photo: Omak-Okanogan Chronicle

Photo: Omak-Okanogan Chronicle

But our staff did a lot more:

· Publisher Roger Harnack (me) was on search and rescue duty, evacuating residents whose homes ultimately burned. I also ran most of the sheriff’s office/Emergency Operations Center social media for the first 4-5 days. I also handled our website and social media, and wrote a number of the stories and shot many photos for both print and web.

· Reporter Brock Hires – Took turns with me handling the social media for both the sheriff’s office/EOC and the newspaper.

· Advertising Manager Teresa Myers organized a food/water supply drive with the help of Circulation/Classifieds Manager Julie Bock and her son.

· Advertising Representative Kate McKenzie also volunteered in the Emergency Operations Center a day or two, answering Hotline calls.

· Composition Manager/Lead Graphic Artist Katie Montanez lost her home to the fire. Her father, John Andrist, was a former owner of the newspaper.

And I don’t want to forget the rest of our staff keeping our weekly operation afloat with news, advertising and hundreds of additional rack sales.

Through it all, we produced a 12-page special section on the fires, published on 38 pound hi-brite. In just the first couple days, we posted about three dozen stories on the web and hundreds of Facebook and Twitter updates.

* Omak-Okanogan Chronicle on Facebook