On Twitter, I’ve been ridiculing the #stormporn in coverage of #Irene: the predictable and numbing repetition, alarmism, and idiocy that is TV. Of course, the storm is serious but the coverage is often laughable and, some would argue, a matter of crying wolf. The inefficiency of the coverage is also boggling: crews everywhere, all shooting the same wind and water, yet saying nothing new.
But obviously, there are many new, more efficient, more informative, more level-headed ways to cover a storm such as this. It’s all only a link away.
CNN iReport and FoxNews amusingly named competitor uReport as well as many media sites post pictures and videos from witnesses. Given the opportunity, witnesses can also provide much more detail. When I oversaw Nola.com, the publisher of the Time-Picayune got us to put up forums so residents could share information about flooded roads. Those same forums were used in Katrina to alert officials to rescue people trapped on roofs.
There is all kinds of data available. There are great maps showing the progress and strength of the storm. Talking Points Memo points to a bunch of outage maps from power companies.
There is much information available directly from governments and their agencies. New York City’s 311 service and site give updates and resources and we can watch the mayor directly on the net. Jen Preston at The New York Times compiled an impressive list of officials using social media to get their messages out. The Wall Street Journal visualized evacuation centers using Foursquare.
Much of the most important information — the forecast — comes from the same sources, such as NOAA and its hurricane center.
And I’m barely scratching the surface of sources of direct information.
So the question the journalists should ask is how they can add value to that. That is the the question must ask constantly now that information can be exchanged so easily and instantly from officials to citizens, data sources to users, and witnesses to witnesses. It’s an everyday question, not just one for emergencies.
Journalists don’t add value by repeating themselves endlessly, but standing in front of random but ultimately uninformative sites where their cameras and trucks happen to be set up (or worse, in the water), by alarming more than informing people.
So how should they? As in some of the example above, they should aggregate and curate reports from witnesses and data from officials. They can visualize data. They provide background and service information. But mostly, shouldn’t reporters report? Standing in the water repeating what we already know over and over is not reporting. Reporting would be finding out what government is not doing — see Katrina. But in truth, with all this information flying by, we don’t need a lot of reporting unless and until government messes up. That’s what is making journalism more efficient and sustainable.
Oh, and journalists and TV networks could still afford a few minutes an hour to deliver real news. While Irene moves up the coast at 14 mph, storms of another sort are still overcoming Syria and Libya, both of which might as well not exist on supposed news networks today. Is that journalism?