As I sat in front of my computer seven years to the day from when Hurricane Katrina plowed through the Gulf Coast and watched the coverage coming out of New Orleans, I was struck by how much things have changed in just seven years.
During Katrina the biggest challenge we all faced was lack of local information -- boots on the streets local level real-time intelligence about the current state of our homes, neigborhoods, schools, friends and families. With phones not working, you were litterally in the dark.
Fast forward seven years to hurricane Isaac -- what I've effectionately begun calling the social media hurricane.
Last week social media was leveraged by my friends to stay in touch and share updates; by the media as they called on citizen journalists to help them get real-time, accurate information on the air and by smart brands that leveraged the opportunity to fuel nascent brand journalism efforts.
In short, as I sat safely typing in McComb, MS, I was feeling so very comfortable because I was just a click away from a tsunami of information that was showing me pictures, videos and updates of my city, my neighbordhood -- even my home, with most being fueled by social media and/or media footage captured with mobile phones.
All of our local New Orleans stations were calling on New Orleanians that stayed behind to ride out the hurricane to take and post pictures, videos and updates about their part of New Orleans. These Twitpics, YouTube and Facebook videos were making their way on to the TV screens and proving to be great sources of real-time information and insight into what's was going on in New Orleans.
And it wasn't just the news stations and newspapers. Individual reporters were taking to the social media airwaves to report, interact and in some cases cajole locals.
My favorite by far was WDSU Reporter Scott Walker who wasn't just using social media to ask for more content, he was interacting directly with local citizens to engage them and I'm sure drive more of them to favor WDSU's coverage over Fox's or WWLs. He was answering questions, pointing folks to helpful information or stories and he even drove down the streets of his neighborhood to show his neighbors the current state of affairs. Scott and a few of his fellow reporters really showed a wonderful grasp of the brave new digital world of media reporting, especially during major events like a hurricane.
But New Orleans' journalist were not alone in this embrace of new media. In fact I just finished a wonderful account by Gina Masullo Chen over at the Nieman Journalism Lab site, where she (a very recently transplanted southerner in Mississippi) talks about how she used a combination of professional and citizen journalism to keep up with the storm and find out the status of her new home.
Brand Journalism Coverage of Hurricane Isaac
Interestingly enough, this flood (pun intended) of information was being powered by brands as well as friends and media outlets.
The Hyatt Regency, itself just recently reopened after a seven year hiatus due to enormous storm damage it received at the not so gentle hands of Katrina, took the Isaac opportunity to engage and inform its followers on Facebook.
These updates were finding their ways into my stream and the stream of countless others, further ingratiating the brand and reminding me that it's one worth following on Facebook and beyond. Of course, given that my friend the brilliant Lauren Cason, is behind the marketing and social strategy over there, can't say that I'm all that surprised.
Still though, really smart work on their part. By Newsjacking the storm, they proved themselves a helpful brand and surely picked up additional brand awareness without having to spend a dime on additional advertising.
What Does The Future of Disaster Journalism Look Like?
So how does all this instant access to digital assets change storm coverage? That's the question I keep coming back to in my own head.
Today's news producer is used to managing a dozen or so reporters during a natural disaster. That's a pretty manageable river of information to consume, synthesize and then determine what information gets passed along and when. Further, the producer and the news anchors can realistically process all the information in totality to provide context to their reporting -- which is the real value of professional journalists in my opinion.
But with today's mobile technology, that same producer might be managing thousands of reporters. Are they ready? Are they equipped and are the systems they rely on today optimized for the fire hose of information social and digital tools can place at their fingertips?
I (and I know a lot of my friends say the same) can't even play today's first-person video games. There is too much information coming at me on the screen, too many buttons to remember and manage. My brain litterally can't keep up. Yet my 13 year old son cruises along with no problem -- even having enough extra brain power to make fun of the old man.
My generation may have grown up with MTV, but today's generations grew up with HALO and Madden NFL. I had Pong. They have Call of Duty. And because of it, their brains are simply wired differently. Science has shown they can actually process information faster and make decisions more quickly than their elder brethren.
So does that mean news organizations shouldn't hire producers over 25?
Hee hee... but seriously, one has to question whether or not today's news organizations are staffed for the brave new digital world.
Does every newsroom need their own Neal Sampat? (Sorry only you The Newsroom fans will get that one)
Are we on the verge of witnessing a cataclysmic shift in news reporting bigger even than the invention of televised news?
What do you think?
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