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Wildfires Destroyed Most Of Paradise, Calif., But The Local Paper Is Still Going Out


For days now, search teams in Butte County, Calif., have been combing through heaps of debris looking for remains. The sheriff's department says some 870 people are unaccounted for two weeks after the deadly Camp Fire started tearing through northern California. Now, with rain in the forecast, searchers worry mudslides will wash away remains, making their task even harder. The Paradise Post is reporting on all of this. The town of Paradise was decimated by the Camp Fire. But today, fresh copies of the town's newspaper rolled off the printer anyway.

DAVID LITTLE: Ninety, 95 percent of the homes in Paradise are gone, so we don't have a city to deliver the Paradise Post to. We truly are a newspaper without a town.


That's David Little. He's editor of the Paradise Post's sister paper, the Chico Enterprise-Record. Little and his colleagues say they're committed to making sure the residents of Paradise still get their newspaper even though the town itself is pretty much gone. This last week, they've been distributing the Paradise Post at evacuation centers. Today they started tucking the newspaper in the print editions of newspapers in neighboring towns. I spoke with David a little earlier today about the decision to keep printing the Paradise Post.

LITTLE: I think the trauma of the event - we talked about this a lot internally. It probably doesn't make sense from a business standpoint. Here you have a community. The businesses that advertised in the Post by and large are no longer there, and the homes that we delivered it to by and large are no longer there. But emotionally, we thought it was important, maybe even symbolic, that the town's newspaper is still going to be there. At least in the beginning, that's the stance that we have to take, that we want to take, to provide some level of normalcy for people.

SHAPIRO: Have you heard from evacuees about what it's like for them to actually get a copy of the paper, even though they're dislocated from the ordinary routines of life in practically every other way?

LITTLE: You know, newspapers never hear a thank you. The only time (laughter) we hear a thank you is in a tragedy like this. And we have just been overwhelmed with best wishes and good thoughts from our readers. You know, you can work on stories and investigative pieces for weeks and months and hardly hear a peep. But helping keep people informed during this time is something that people really value and don't hesitate to tell us. It's really flattering and an affirmation of what we do. Makes me feel good to be in this position.

SHAPIRO: Are people using the paper as a platform to try to look for loved ones who might still be missing?

LITTLE: Yeah. Social media is remarkable, and we're trying to facilitate as much as we can. We run this real sobering list of the missing in the newspaper. You know, one day we ran it, it took an entire page of newsprint just to run the list of names. And it's heartbreaking. But the reason we're running the list is we hope - the sheriff's office hopes - that a lot of the people who are on the list don't even really know that they're missing. They evacuated safely to some other city far away. And we're hoping that they can cross more people off the list, that they aren't all truly missing.

SHAPIRO: How are you and the journalists you work with coping with the personal loss that you yourselves may have experienced while also trying to do this job every day?

LITTLE: Well, it's been difficult. I mean, 10 people in our office lost their homes. And we all know friends and family members who have lost homes. It's a real helpless feeling for all of us and the most emotional story any of us have ever had to cover. It's difficult, traumatic. We're lucky, though, in that we're able to do something. Everybody in Butte County has this helpless feeling. You know, you don't even know where to start because so many people have lost their homes, have lost their jobs, have lost their livelihoods. So you don't even know where to start to help. But this is the one little thing we can do, is trying to help a community stay informed about what's going on.

SHAPIRO: The Paradise Post has been around for more than 70 years. There is some question now about whether the town of Paradise will be rebuilt. Are you confident that the Paradise Post has a future?

LITTLE: Yeah, it's a good question. And the Paradise Post has been around since 1947. We really want to be part of the rebuilding process. And I hope that we can figure out a way to keep the paper going. Right now, we've figured out a way. But there's some long-term questions that obviously we have. Those are just questions we'll have to figure out. I'm kind of just taking it one day at a time right now.

SHAPIRO: David Little, thank you so much.

LITTLE: Thank you. I appreciate your interest.

SHAPIRO: David Little is editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record in Chico, Calif.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICK HAKIM'S "BET SHE LOOKS LIKE YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.