Sandy media coverage: 4 innovations and a couple of caveats
Hurricane/super-storm Sandy, which battered the East Coast on Monday into Tuesday, gave media companies another chance to test-drive emerging content types. A few, such as the Huffington Post, were focused less on innovation and more on getting their websites back online following widespread power outages.
Here are four examples of content innovations, followed by two caveats for media companies covering a disaster or any other major breaking news story.
Some are speculating that Sandy represents the validation of Instagram as a legitimate journalistic platform, much as previous events such as Arab Spring established Twitter as a media force. During the height of the storm Monday, Instagram users were posting 10 pictures per second to the #sandy hashtag. As of Tuesday morning, more than 473,000 photos were posted with #sandy.
Not all the Instagram coverage was crowdsourced. Time curated an Instagram slideshow from five photographers working at various locations affected by the storm. Expect more publishers to embrace Instagram to showcase visual content.
In addition, two digital media developers, Facebook's Chris Ackermann and Peter Ng from the New York Times R&D lab, created Instacane, billed as "the story of hurricane Sandy told through Instagram." It's worth a look.
Google tapped into its vast data repository to create a “crisis map” for Sandy, which visitors could plot with a variety of data, including power outage information, emergency shelter locations, public alerts, radar and other images, webcams and YouTube videos. It’s a compelling example of service journalism delivered in a highly interactive and engaging format.
On Sunday, Accuweather.com hosted a Google Hangout for meteorologists to discuss the pending storm. Speakers talked about Sandy's potential impact and fielded questions from the virtual audience. After the live chat, the Hangout was archived on YouTube – giving it additional shelf life.
Google Hangouts are emerging as a quick-and-dirty way to add a video component to live chats around specific topics – a potentially great community-builder.
The Wall Street Journal has been experimenting with story streams for the past several months, for both breaking news and ongoing coverage of global stock markets. Its Live Stream of Sandy features a scrolling compilation of tweets, photos, slide shows, live blogs and wire and staff reports about the storm.
These types of streams can be useful as a catch-all for ongoing events, providing users with an aggregated, scannable list of the most current coverage from a variety of sources.
Amidst these pockets of innovation were some painful reminders of how digital platforms require us to re-think some of our processes. Two stand out:
Huffington Post, Gawker and BuzzFeed all experienced downtime due to power outages in New York. All three were still down Tuesday morning. It’s surprising that these digital-only brands would not have more redundancy built into their digital publishing platforms.
“Due to power outages caused by Superstorm Sandy, our own website is experiencing technical difficulties,” HuffPo posted. “We are working around the clock to get the site back to normal. The news team … will be updating this page with the latest on the storm. We will also update our social media accounts.”
Gawker’s update read: “Our New York Data Center is still offline thanks to Hurricane Sandy.
We are working as quickly as possible to restore the full site, but in the interim you can view updates at http://updates.gawker.com.”
A Huffington Post spokesman told Poynter that its primary data center, its backup data center and its three data providers “all failed overnight due to Sandy.”
Sandy was a field day for Photoshoppers, with a host of fake photos circulating on social media. Some were more obvious than others. Is Twitter Wrong and The Atlantic both chronicled the various faux Sandy photos making the rounds.
Poynter offers a simple rule to help journalists avoid being fooled: Don’t retweet or repost any image until you’ve confirmed the source. “Verify it, or don’t spread it,” writes Craig Silverman. “Those are your choices.”