Brian Sandford: Where there’s smoke, there’s front-page coverage

It’s rare that an ongoing story appears on seven consecutive front pages in the Nevada Appeal.

It’s even more uncommon for our air to be so rotten that we’re forced to dramatically alter our lifestyles — cutting out walks, bike rides, sporting events and fundraisers so we can lie in wait indoors, longing for signs of improvement.

Both those things happened during the past week, as the air quality bounced between “moderate” and “very unhealthy” as rated by The latter is defined as “Everyone may experience more serious health effects,” and it’s an ominous reminder that while the region’s nature holds exquisite beauty, it’s also a potentially perilous force.

The fire was a hot topic all week; one only needed to stand in line at a grocery store or visit a barbershop to hear awed exchanges about it. That was reflected in page views at Unsurprisingly, fire updates were among the best-read stories on our website.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, we don’t play stories up solely because people are talking about them. We had a different reason for focusing on the fire the way we did.

Nothing’s more immediately important to a reader than his or her well-being; that’s why health and public safety are two of the bedrock topics that every newspaper strives to cover effectively. That’s also why we gave the source of the pollution — primarily, the Rim fire near Yosemite National Park — and its effects here significant attention.

Readers were extremely helpful, informing our staff about closings and cancellations so we could notify the public. Facebook again proved its value as a tool not only for delivering news, but gathering it, as many readers kept us (and one another) up to date on conditions in their areas. They also shared photos of a seemingly alien landscape bathed in an eerie orange light, with usually visible mountains shrouded in smoke.

It might be a while until you see an unfolding story get as much front-page ink as the fire did. Let’s hope the next event that warrants such coverage is less burdensome than this one has been.

Editor Brian Sandford can be reached at


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