Following the smoke trail
Reynolds School alumna reports on the California Camp Fire
“The Camp Fire actually broke out on a Thursday morning, and any time there’s breaking news after midnight, I’m the person that’s called,” Reynolds School of Journalism alumna Meaghan Mackey said.
On the morning of November 8, 2018, Mackey, a multimedia journalist for KRCR News Ch. 7, in Chico, California, received a text from her production assistant to cover a vegetation fire about 45 minutes from her news bureau. When she stepped out of her house, she realized the fire was larger than other vegetation fires she had covered before.
“I see this huge plume of smoke all the way from Chico…There is this orange glow across the whole sky. It almost looks like a sunrise,” she said.
As a multimedia journalist, Mackey works solo, so she drove to her bureau, grabbed her camera equipment and followed the smoke trail along Highway 99 alone.
“I ended up in Paradise at the Feather River Hospital, and I was one of the first reporters on-scene because I had gotten this call so early and this fire moved so fast. I ended up right near the flames,” she said.
Not long after Mackey drove to Paradise, the main highway in and out of the town was turned into an evacuation route. Mackey’s production team asked her to stay at the fire as long as she was safe since no other reporters could get in.
KRCR broke morning coverage to share Mackey’s live reporting of the fire. She continued reporting on the Camp Fire all day, and her segment ran on ABC World News that evening. Despite the danger, Mackey never thought twice about doing her job.
“You really just have to go after it and know that people need to know what’s going on. You’re the voice for all these people, all these residents living in these areas,” she said.
As the voice of the residents affected by the Camp Fire, Mackey shared information about evacuation orders and resources for those who lost their homes, pets and belongings during the fire. She also told stories about the homes still standing, the support from others and the brave individuals who helped in the crisis.
“I did a story on a tow truck driver and how he lost his entire home…I followed him around for a day just towing these charred cars from the middle of the road and putting them in a junkyard, which was his old workplace that burned down, and I’m just showing that he’s still out here despite losing everything,” Mackey said.
Her internship experience and Reynolds School education helped her determine which stories to cover and how to cover them ethically.
“I definitely use my education way more than I ever thought I would use it and inside the classroom is just as important as what you learn in your internships and out in the field because it really is the foundation of everything,” Mackey said.
Mackey started at the Reynolds School in 2014 and discovered her passion for broadcast. She also took courses like social journalism, news studio and international and cross-cultural reporting. Mackey did her required internship at KTVN Ch. 2 in Reno, shadowing all of the positions inside the newsroom.
“I found the reporting to be the most interesting and unique. I liked being out in the field. I liked meeting people and storytelling,” Mackey said. “It felt like I wasn’t even working when I was going to work there, and I just really enjoyed the creative side.”
Her new-found passion for reporting led her to complete a second internship at KCRA News 3 in Sacramento the summer before her senior year of college. Two months after graduating in spring 2018, Mackey found her job at KRCR.
“I get to wake up and I have the privilege of telling these stories. There’s no cooler job I can think of doing every single day.”