WBUR producer helps California station tell stories of fire-stricken region

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A producer for WBUR’s Here & Now is volunteering this week at North State Public Radio in Chico, Calif., one of the communities affected by a deadly and destructive fire last year.


Associate Producer Ashley Bailey said she was inspired to volunteer by reading about Tess Vigeland, who volunteered to help the station develop a weekly radio program about recovering and rebuilding from the fire. The show’s title, After Paradise, refers to the nearby community that was almost completely destroyed in last year’s Camp Fire, the state’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire.

“I’m glad that Tess thought this up and was thoughtful enough to ask and offer her help,” Bailey said. “Because a lot of times when people are going through something really challenging, picking up the phone and asking for help is one of the heaviest things you can do. And if someone can offer a hand, it makes all the difference.”    

Bailey emailed NSPR GM Phil Wilke to ask how she could help the station. He suggested field reporting. During her time in Chico, Bailey plans to file at least two stories for After Paradise.

Bailey grew up in Arcata, Calif., about four hours northwest of Chico. Other fires in the state have affected her family members, including her father, who had to be evacuated during a fire in Southern California.

Bailey said she’s also grieving the death of her mother, who died unexpectedly on Thanksgiving last year, and that she thinks her experience could help her connect with grieving community members.

“I know that losing one person — you can’t really compare it to people losing their whole community, but I do understand what grief feels like, and I hope that I can share what I’ve been through with other people and relate to them,” she said.

WBUR is supporting Bailey by continuing to pay her salary and covering her expenses while she’s in Chico. The station hopes that volunteering for NSPR will help Bailey’s coverage of the fire’s aftermath for Here & Now, she said: “So I guess you could call it a win-win.”

NSPR received a lot of help from volunteers from mid-November to mid-January, but since then, “people have lives, and they were getting back to them,” said Wilke.

Still, the station plans to keep producing After Paradise “as long as there is money there,” Wilke said. He has applied for grant funding to continue producing the show for the rest of the year, he said.

Two full-time staffers are working on the show, and “there are a lot of stories to tell,” he said.

The station is open to hosting more volunteer reporters to free up station staff for covering other important stories. “What we as a news staff can’t lose focus on is Camp Fire to the exclusion of other news that’s happening in the area,” Wilke said.

“We are grateful for everybody who’s helped us get this far,” he said. “Ashley is another link in that chain. We are just trying to do this story and this region justice by telling as many stories as we can.”

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