David Boardman

Executive Editor, Seattle Times

Seattle, WA

[WA-E 0201]

We had a pretty horrendous ice and snowstorm here – we don’t get a lot of snow in the winter time – and we had a horrendous ice, snow and windstorm here in which power was knocked out for several days, and it was unusually cold here.

We have a fairly large and growing immigrant community – many of those people come from much warmer climates. And one night there was a family of Vietnamese immigrants, middle-class, relatively well-to-do immigrant family – who lived in the suburb of Bellevue in a large, I think, four-bedroom home over there. Their power was out, and they were cold. They brought their charcoal grill inside the house to warm up the house. And all, I believe it was, all six members of the family perished from the fumes.

I was just deeply troubled by that as a lot of people were. And worked on the story here before I left for the evening and went home and really felt deeply moved by what had happened.

I woke up the next morning – and it’s as close as I ever had to a journalistically religious experience – I woke up the next morning – my alarm went off at 5:30 as he does every morning – and I popped out of bed with a fully-formed vision of what I wanted the front page to look like that day. And went into the shower with a glass door, showering, and I’m drawing this out on the door, so I don’t forget it.

And I rush into the office. And what we decided to do was – based on this vision I had – is we consulted King County, and we found what were the most commonly-used foreign languages in this county. And we dedicated the entire top half of our front page to do – in very large and very red letters, in those five most commonly-used foreign languages – a warning to people not to do what these people had done. Not to burn charcoal or gas grills in their home.

Now, that’s not something a lot of newspapers would do. Because it’s not a good ways to sell newspapers to your English-speaking customers. But our feeling was: If some Somali immigrant is in the 7-Eleven buying milk and cigarettes and sees his or her language popping up from the newsstand, they’re going to pay attention, and we might be able to save a life or two.

We did that. We dedicated our whole front page to it. And we heard back afterwards from many community groups that in fact that’s exactly what had happened. That it really got people talking – it got people’s attention. It prevented people from that practice, and most importantly it said it to those new Americans, “Wow! This is what a newspaper does. And wasn’t this something they were willing to sacrifice some money in order to give us a warning?”

And to me that was really a graphic example of what we do and nobody else does.