In early May 2016, wildfires ripped through Fort McMurray, Alberta, leaving a wake of destruction. With an estimated damage cost of almost ten billion dollars, it was the single costliest disaster in Canadian history.
As a B2B magazine serving the nation’s insurance industry, Canadian Underwriter immediately began reporting on the insurance implications of the tragedy. What began as rapidfire coverage of Canada’s largest insured catastrophe unfolded into multi-year coverage spanning the B2B magazine’s print, web and social platforms.
WHAT THEY DID
Canadian Underwriter tackled the Fort McMurray storyline with a multi-prong approach. Coverage included print articles, infographics and online news. Content—everything from articles to news items to infographics to images—was created for the print magazine and website, and featured on social channels including Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.
Because every segment in the industry was discussing the tragedy, the magazine explored all the viewpoints, expertise, opinions and outcomes, says editor David Gambrill.
From the day the fire broke out on May 3, 2016 to June 5, 2016, Canadian Underwriter staff produced 41 web stories about the fire. Canadianunderwriter.ca had 222,000 web page views during that time, reflecting a high reader engagement associated with the ongoing Fort McMurray coverage.
The editorial team honed in on specific, helpful and timely topics for their audience, such as:
- How to send cheques to people who have been evacuated, “Disaster planning: How to get insurance funds to evacuees.”
- How to assess damage without interfering with the fire operations, “Loss adjusting innovation emerging in light of insurance claims for forest fires: Cunningham Lindsey.”
- How rates should be adjusted to reflect Canada’s natural catastrophe risk, “Altered State.”
The last flames long extinguished, the editorial team continues to use this event to educate and inform their readers. Online and print stories about Fort McMurray within Canadian Underwriter—and references to the fire within stories—now number in the hundreds.
HOW THEY DID IT
Canadian Underwriter accomplished in-depth coverage by assessing what content was most suitable for each platform. They earmarked time-sensitive coverage for their website, reserved more complex ideas for print, and shared basic or picture-oriented concepts on their social media channels.
“More than half of what appears on the site every day is staff-generated. So oftentimes we will write stories based on the information we receive and post shorter, focused pieces immediately,” says Gambrill.
The magazine has also made use of as many sources as possible to consider the catastrophe from every relevant angle.
“There is no end of statistics and information available from a variety of sources in the industry,” says Gambrill. “Information can come from individual insurance companies, adjusting firms, industry trade organizations, and industry research firms.”
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
The sheer magnitude of the Fort McMurray wildfires produced seemingly endless angles and stories. This proved to be an opportunity and a test for Canadian Underwriter. On one hand, the event sparked endless angles and stories. And instead of dying out with time, the story continues to grow. With every new statistic or case law, comes the chance to produce more content. On the other hand, the impact of the wildfires tested the magazine’s ability to satisfy the varied interests of its readership.
“The challenge for any journalist is to make sure that the information and ideas you are presenting are relevant to your audiences,” says Gambrill. “I would write a different story about Fort McMurray for claims specialists than I would for insurance companies or brokers.”
Gambrill acknowledges there remain many unexplored lessons to be learned from the incident.
“Canadian Underwriter fulfills an education function for the industry—a place to get industry-specific business information about the event and its impact. This is always true of the publication; it’s just that the role became more important because of the magnitude of the disaster.”
Moving forward, Gambrill says they plan to dive into lessons learned with a video or webinar series featuring interviews with frontline adjusters who helped in Fort McMurray after the disaster.
When deciding how much focus a magazine should invest in a certain event or topic, Gambrill simply encourages editors to follow their best instincts.
“Some things you just know are going to resonate with your readership,” Gambrill says. “There are very few instances when, as a magazine editor, I am able to justify publishing two daily online stories about a single event for a solid month.”
Much of the decision of how much coverage to dedicate to any given topic comes down to knowing the magazine’s audience and assessing how many different voices are joining the discussion.
“When a catastrophe like this develops, it’s hard to know at the outset what the outcome will be. You often get a feel for the magnitude by the many different voices and perspectives that emerge as you are covering the story. The more people who are touched by the tragedy—consumers and industry professionals alike—the more perspectives are represented in the coverage—and the more coverage there will be.”
Read Canadian Underwriter‘s coverage of the Fort McMurray disaster and its implications at canadianunderwriter.ca.
This Showcasing Success case study was made possible with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation.