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A heartfelt thanks to all the people who wrote in out of concern for my family and me vis-a-vis the San Diego fires. We’re fine, and very proud of the wonderful and loving way our entire community has responded to a shared tragedy.

I’m also very proud of the role our local Web sites played — and national aggregators, like They have been fantastic.

I’ve actually been on the East Coast this week. As you can imagine, I have been extremely eager for any tidbits of news about the “voluntary evacuations,” our residences and our communities, perhaps in that order.

It took a while to get good reports from anyone. One of our two major highways was closed, other roads were clogged, and I think nobody had any idea what was going on for many hours.

After the initial catch-up period, however, the local media came through — especially The San Diego Union-Tribune’s SignOnSan Diego, which demonstrated how newspapers can use the Internet tools at their disposal to bring the community together in a way that perhaps no one else can.

Those with any doubts about the relevancy of a newspaper in the age of the Internet need only look at the incredible job Chris Jennewein and Ron James and their teams did at SignOn this week. Complementing its news coverage, SignOn went Web 2.0 in a big way, adding a fire radio station on the fly to its normal local music radio station. It posted videos on YouTube, and a photo archive. It regularly updated a fire blog (“Mira Costa College has closed”).

And it hosted a number of well-attended forums, with amazing input on everything that was fire related. (“Take special precautions when cleaning up ash. Most important: Lightly mist indoor and outdoor hard surfaces before gently sweeping ash. On lightly dusted areas, a damp cloth or wet mop may be all that is needed.”)

SignOn, of course, was not the only local media service on the job. also proved to be of real utility, aggregating all the other media sources, bringing in good community content and adding many more local voices. One of its areas got 514 comments from both the area and beyond.

The local TV stations, for their part, also did a particularly fine job extending their on-air coverage with highly relevant fire maps and useful updates on closings. CBS8 had a nice feature on houses that had burned down, neighborhood by neighborhood.

All of it was useful, and expertly done. But to me, what was noteworthy wasn’t when the newspaper did its regular story, or a TV station got a video up: it was the Web 2.0 social media extensions that really engaged the community and brought things to life.

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