Follow-up stories

The follow-up story is an important staple of journalism, as it provides contextualization to a news story. In disaster-related stories, this would seem to be a no-brainer. Disasters leave ruin in their wake, and there must be lasting effects on those who suffer from the traumatic events. However, in fire coverage, these types of stories are sparse.

The most common type of follow-up story related to fire is the anniversary story. The Dart Center says that anniversary stories often mark the beginning of the Act Two stage of reporting; as defined by Frank Ochberg, this is the stage that focuses on the victims. I do not believe that those who cover fires do a very good job of bringing the Act Two mentality to their reporting. This article, “Fatal Fire: A Year Later,” in the Newnan Times-Herald seems to be fairly standard. It depicted what kind of memorials were going on and how the family was feeling a year after the death. It didn’t seem to do a good job of giving personality to the victims, and it is certainly nowhere near the Act Three purpose of finding some sort of meaning to take away. In all honesty, it’s hard to see what good this article even does for the community. Perhaps the family wants their memorial ceremonies to be publicized in honor of the victims, but that consideration hardly seems like it would outweigh the potential bringing up of bad memories that comes with doing the interviews.

That’s one of the risks of doing anniversary stories, the Dart Center says: “When does anniversary coverage promote healing — and when does it open old wounds?” These stories do not seem to do much in the way of healing. There is not much that gives the reader an idea of what the victims were like, nor is the larger issue of fire deaths put into any context. Perhaps using anniversaries isn’t the best way to spark Act Two coverage — though it is the most convenient way. For instance, when covering the Columbine killings a year later, the community members wanted the journalists to get their reporting done weeks in advance, so that the town could spend the anniversary in peace. I think that this is a good tactic to take, but I also think that it is crucial that news organizations remember to still do the Act II coverage, even if they’re not anniversary pieces.

Act II stories is largely done in reference to wildfires, when it comes to fire coverage. This makes sense. Anniversaries mean more in those scenarios, because wildfires are very seasonal. (Yes, residential fires are more likely to occur during the winter, but the actual climate is playing a part in wildfires, and they are even more season sensitive.) More analysis is done on these types of fires. For instance, take this article and video from azcentral.com. The video talks about how wildfire season is here again, and it doesn’t seem like many changes have been made, even though the causes of wildfires have been known for years. The article goes into more detail about the status of investigations following a big fire in 2013 and what changes could be coming.

I found this paragraph particularly newsworthy: “Many wildfire experts, meanwhile, balk at discussing what went wrong — or what should be changed — because of legal concerns, respect for the deceased and an emerging industry view that firefighting mistakes should not be identified publicly.” For one, this is a big problem and journalists need to look at this and see if they should be taking it upon themselves to discuss mistakes in fire safety and hold people accountable. Secondly, this is the kind of analysis that is severely lacking in coverage of residential fires.

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