Reporter's notebook from a wildfire scene after being rescued from a puddle

One of Lizzie Johnson's notebooks, rescued from a puddle held interviews with victims of the devastating wildfire that destroyed Paradise, California, in 2018. Johnson's sustained coverage of that fire has been expanded into a book, due out this August.

Lizzie Johnson’s work covering the deadly wildfires that have scorched California in recent years has earned a place in these posts in the past. Most notable was an annotation of a piece for the San Francisco Chronicle in which she profiled Priest Morgan, a man hailed as a hero for saving some of his neighbors’ homes from the Carr Fire in 2017, only to be haunted by regrets a year later as those neighbors languished in limbo.  We also analyzed the journalistic magic at work in her profile of Paradise, which was devoured by the Camp Fire of 2018.

Lizzie Johnson covering the Camp Fire in Paradise

Lizzie Johnson covering the Camp Fire in Paradise, California

Now that work and more has earned Johnson a position at The Washington Post, on the local enterprise team.

Journalists climb to new and bigger jobs a lot, so a move like this is not usually the stuff of news. But the memo from Post editors announcing Johnson’s hire caught our attention because it captures, in a few quick sentences, what it takes to do aspirational work. It notes Johnson’s skill in “deftly juggling breaking news and deeply reported narratives” as the Chronicles wildfire reporter, and before that she delivered investigative scoops from the city hall beat. In other words, she made the most of the assignment in front of her.

That work, by the way, landed Johnson a book contract. “Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire” comes out this August. She also just won Best of the West in longform feature writing for a December 2020 story about a serial arsonist.

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