For these journalists, Ridgecrest earthquakes were personal

Saturday’s edition of the Ridgecrest Daily Independent newspaper was just about to go to the printing press when the earth shook again Friday night.

The front page headline — “The Time Ridgecrest Rocked” — was all about the prior day’s 6.4 earthquake, which was centered near Ridgecrest.

So the staff stripped a new banner at the very top of the page and explained that the 7.1 earthquake had caused further gas leaks and fires in the area. The Friday night timing of the quake made the paper’s website and Facebook accounts the best way to get updates to readers.

The Daily Independent is a true local paper — with standalone stories on its home page about damage to a mobile home; the fairgrounds; and the community college.

Jessica Weston, the paper’s city editor, told CNN Business that she keeps her camera with her “all the time in case anything like this happened. I’m a journalist, that’s what you do.”

Now her photos of the resulting fires have been shared widely by CNN and other news outlets.

After the first quake, which turned out to be a foreshock, Weston’s mother’s house still had power while other locales were out, so the house became a “command post,” she said, with the help of her colleague Jack Barnwell.

Another staffer, Lauren Jennings, was several hours away in Orange County, so she became the point person for posting stories to the website.

Videos from other local reporters showed ceiling damage at the Daily Independent’s newsroom.

Once Weston knew her loved ones were okay, she went “into work mode in my head,” she said. “And I actually feel fortunate I have that to go into,” she said.

“We get to be active and react to this in a constructive way,” by reporting, she said. “Others don’t have that.”

Residents were on edge about further tremors — and they were right to be worried.

Friday night’s 7.1 quake released 11 times the amount of energy of Thursday’s quake, CNN Meteorologist Brandon Miller said.

The Daily Independent’s biggest stories on Saturday were about damage surveys in the area and a visit from California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Another story on the website noted that the US Geological Service predicted a “3% chance of an earthquake larger than 7.1 magnitude to hit.”

“We’re not putting anything back on the walls” yet, Weston said Saturday.

–Diane Kaye contributed reporting.