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Fires Affect California Publishers Emotionally, But Operations Carry On



By Dylan Stableford
10/25/2007

California firesThe devastating fires that have raged in Southern California this week—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 evacuate—have affected countless numbers of staffers at the region’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 Tribune—which covers San Diego County, the area hardest hit by the fires—has seen record-breaking Web traffic as a result of the fires.

“It’s absolutely exploding,” VP Chris Jennewein said. On Monday, the paper’s SignOnSanDiego.com registered over seven million page views, well above the site’s 1.2 million daily average.

But magazine sites have largely missed out on the opportunity. On San Diego magazine’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."

“The monthly frequency makes [covering the fires] a different animal than a newspaper,” says Chris Schulz, Publisher and COO of Santa Ana and Irvine, California-based Freedom Specialty Media. Newspapers, there’s more of an opportunity there for daily coverage—and they’re sending their staffs out there to report.”

However, at least one trade publisher, the Journal of Emergency Medical Services—which also publishes Fire and Rescue and Wildland Fire—was devoting most of its Web sites to fire coverage.

Stay Home, But Work

The state’s plea for employees to work from home in order to keep roads clear has not had a great impact on operations. “The culture in our company is that if you need to work from home, you work from,” says Irvine-based 1105 Media publisher Wendy LaDuke. “We’ve had so many employees affected or known someone who has been.”

Dozens of the company’s 350 staffers have been unable to work onsite due to evacuations or road closures, she says. Many employees at CurtCo Media’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 harm’s way—and created something of a safe haven for displaced or evacuated employees. “No publishers are watching their buildings burn down,” says Schulz.

“Some 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,” 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.

“Fortunately the fires didn't hit the greater L.A. market this time,” says WPA VP Ron Epstein. “They did two years ago, but not this year.” 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.

By Dylan Stableford
10/25/2007







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