Newspapers usually tell other people’s stories — the events, achievements and tragedies taking place in our community, our nation, our world.
We seldom write about ourselves. Today, we’re making an exception, and we hope you’ll not only indulge us, but that you will join us in congratulating our colleagues in The Press Democrat newsroom, who were collectively honored Monday with a Pulitzer Prize for their herculean effort to tell the story of October’s firestorm.
Starting with a brief report posted on our website at 12:35 a.m. on Oct. 9 and continuing through many long days, The Press Democrat’s reporters, photographers, online producers, copy editors, page designers and newsroom editors worked round the clock to keep readers informed about one of the worst catastrophes in California history.
Using all of their tools — stories, photos, videos, social media — these journalists, some of whom had been evacuated from their own homes, tracked the advance and retreat of the fires that roared across Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa and Lake counties, telling stories of harrowing escapes and heartbreaking losses of life.
Our reporters and photographers were on the front lines with first responders and in evacuation centers with people driven from their homes by advancing flames. They asked about the availability of firefighting resources and the breakdown of the emergency notification system — questions that were catalysts for ongoing changes in county practices, state laws and federal policies.
With media from around the world covering the fires, The Press Democrat’s journalists distinguished themselves by telling the big stories while providing regular updates needed by those most directly affected — where they could find shelter, whether drinking water was safe, how to locate missing friends and relatives, when they could expect restoration of electricity and gas service.
The Pulitzer jury captured the depth and breadth of their fine work in awarding the prize for breaking news reporting to The Press Democrat staff “for lucid and tenacious coverage of historic wildfires that ravaged the city of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, expertly utilizing an array of tools, including photography, video and social media platforms, to bring clarity to its readers — in real time and in subsequent in-depth reporting.”
That the other finalists for the Pulitzer for breaking news were larger news organizations — the Houston Chronicle for its coverage of Hurricane Harvey and the New York Times for its coverage of the mass shooting in Las Vegas — speaks to the quality of the coverage of October’s firestorm.
We are proud of our colleagues’ fine work and grateful for the recognition they have received from our readers and from our peers, including honors from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the California News Publishers Association and, now, our second Pulitzer Prize.
At the same time, we are mindful that this acclaim is a product of a tragedy that caused billions of dollars of damage, left thousands of our neighbors needing new homes and cut short 40 lives. Our community is still healing. It will be rebuilding for years to come, and oversight and accountability will be important.
The Press Democrat has a continuing responsibility to report on the fires, the recovery and efforts to prevent a recurrence of this disaster. Our work is just beginning.