Fires Affect California Publishers Emotionally, But Operations Carry On
The devastating fires that have raged in Southern California this weekâ€”causing at least seven deaths, well over $1 billion in damage, torching 1,300 homes across 600 acres and forcing nearly a million residents to evacuateâ€”have affected countless numbers of staffers at the regionâ€™s magazines, publishers there say, but have yet to disrupt magazine production.
According to a dozen magazine executives contacted by Folio:, the fires have had less of an effect on magazines than newspapers there. But magazines have also not seen the resulting spike in Web traffic and exposure some local newspapers and television stations have, these publishers say.
According to a report in Editor & Publisher, the San Diego-Union Tribuneâ€”which covers San Diego County, the area hardest hit by the firesâ€”has seen record-breaking Web traffic as a result of the fires.
â€śItâ€™s absolutely exploding,â€ť VP Chris Jennewein said. On Monday, the paperâ€™s SignOnSanDiego.com registered over seven million page views, well above the siteâ€™s 1.2 million daily average.
But magazine sites have largely missed out on the opportunity. On San Diego magazineâ€™s Web site, for instance, there is no mention of the fires. "This will not impact the publishing of our December issue," says San Diego editor-in-chief Tom Blair. "In fact, we intend to do some deadline reporting on the fire so that it can appear in our December issue."
â€śThe monthly frequency makes [covering the fires] a different animal than a newspaper,â€ť says Chris Schulz, Publisher and COO of Santa Ana and Irvine, California-based Freedom Specialty Media. Newspapers, thereâ€™s more of an opportunity there for daily coverageâ€”and theyâ€™re sending their staffs out there to report.â€ť
However, at least one trade publisher, the Journal of Emergency Medical Servicesâ€”which also publishes Fire and Rescue and Wildland Fireâ€”was devoting most of its Web sites to fire coverage.
Stay Home, But Work
The stateâ€™s plea for employees to work from home in order to keep roads clear has not had a great impact on operations. â€śThe culture in our company is that if you need to work from home, you work from,â€ť says Irvine-based 1105 Media publisher Wendy LaDuke. â€śWeâ€™ve had so many employees affected or known someone who has been.â€ť
Dozens of the companyâ€™s 350 staffers have been unable to work onsite due to evacuations or road closures, she says. Many employees at CurtCo Mediaâ€™s Malibu-based offices were forced to work remotely because of the closure of the Pacific Coast Highway, a company spokesperson says.
That the fires have been located in the hills and surrounding rural areas has kept most magazine offices out of harmâ€™s wayâ€”and created something of a safe haven for displaced or evacuated employees. â€śNo publishers are watching their buildings burn down,â€ť says Schulz.
â€śSome of our employees have had to evacuate their homes, and many of our folks are housing friends and family who have been evacuated. Fortunately, so far, none of our staff has lost their home,â€ť San Diego magazine president Jim Fitzpatrick wrote in an e-mail. The magazine is located in the downtown metropolitan area and is not in any danger, he says.
The Western Publication Association offices in Westlake Village have not been affected, says executive director Jane Silbering, but the air is filled with smoke and ash. Winds there have gusted up to 80 miles per hour, she said.
â€śFortunately the fires didn't hit the greater L.A. market this time,â€ť says WPA VP Ron Epstein. â€śThey did two years ago, but not this year.â€ť Publishing houses like Weider (Woodland Hills), Sage (Thousand Oaks) and Affinity Group Inc. (Ventura) weren't affected.
Production may not have been a problem for magazines, but shipments could have been. According to the U.S. Postal Service, 23 post offices in San Diego County and seven in San Bernardino County were closed for forced to close this week, with the number of closures fluctuating along with the fires themselves.