Getting to the Heart of the Story

Loyola Marymount University’s Los Angeles home is fertile ground for research and exploration. For journalists, it is a never-ending trove of stories to report and tell. Carson Miller ’19 took a widely reported disaster story – the Woolsey Fire of 2018 – and honed her journalistic skills to find new angles for her capstone project. Miller had arrived at LMU as an undeclared major, then switched to English. Always drawn to eco-journalism, she earned her degree in journalism when that major was established in 2018.

The Woolsey Fire began Nov. 8, 2018; it ultimately burned 96,949 acres, destroyed 1,643 structures, and forced the evacuation of more than 295,000 people. Three people died in the blaze. Miller had seen wildfires before in the part of Colorado where she was raised, but this catastrophic event was more intense. “Once the immediate disaster is over, the tragedy continues,” said Miller who was convinced that the aftermath was an important component of the story, so she went about the work of reporting.

She talked to survivors, one who lost her home, one who saved his home. She gathered information from a Ventura County official and she drove from campus into the fire zone. “It was shocking going to an interview to see the house had burned down. It was a normal road, then all of a sudden it was a disaster area and there were appliances standing out on completely blackened hills. It was heartbreaking.” She also drove south to Orange County to explore fire-severity zones and talk to prevention experts who were focused on saving places that haven’t burned in a long time.

The result of Miller’s work is a multifaceted, multimedia presentation that affords needed perspective after most journalists had moved on to the next story. Miller created a website where the main component is a 17-minute, NPR-style audio report that is supplemented by original photography and interactive maps of the burned area and its high-severity zones. She offers vivid reporting on the fire itself and then takes it a step further to offer information about prevention.

Miller credits two of her professors, Evelyn McDonnell and Kate Pickert, for guiding her curiosity and helping her find the resources that made her story come to life. LMU’s teacher-scholar model, and the close working relationship with professors that often develops, are among the hallmarks of an LMU education.