Distributed journalism in action: the NPR and Hurricane Gustav

There’s a great interview with NPR’s Andy Carvin over at Poynter where he talks about their coverage of Hurricane Gustav. It’s a classic example of what I’ve previously called ‘Distributed Journalism’, and a lesson for any news organisation in how news production has changed:

“For Hurricane Gustav, he has led 500 volunteers putting together the Gustav Information Center, which includes a Wiki and a site called “Voices of Gustav.” The Voices site is set up to accept calls from people who have been displaced, with the idea that volunteers would transcribe the calls and post them online in a searchable format.  That effort tapped into the Utterz Web site.  The effort includes three Twitter feeds including GustavAlerts, which is a breaking weather feed. GustavNews follows news stories and GustavBlogs focuses on how blogs are reporting the storm.  Another another team of 50 or so volunteers is working on transcribing reports from ham radio operators and other radio scans.

“Carvin tells me that he thinks of Twitter as a citizen generated wire service while the wiki is more like a reference desk.”

Particularly interesting is that the Gustav Information Center does not feature “an NPR logo, a link to NPR or any mention of NPR at all.” This is particularly important in making a space ‘owned’ by the users. Likewise: “by utilizing free tools for building wikis, social networking interfaces, Twitter feeds, Google Maps, etc, we’re able to mobilize folks to complete very detailed work and collaborate as equals.”

Also worth pointing out is the highlighting of atypical disaster volunteers: the geeks.

This video from GRITtv has a bit more information:

Final word:

“It’s also important to not fear sending people away from your own website when necessary. Even as NPR builds up its internal social networking infrastructure, for example, we still plan to continue reaching out communities on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc, because that’s where those communities spend most of their time and are comfortable working with each other. They have unique infrastructures and dynamics that could never be fully replicated within a news org, so you need to be prepared to be working across multiple networks and connect the dots. And when a story breaks quickly and you need help, you need to act quickly, too. Use whatever tools are available to get the public involved helping you pull it all together.”

Worth reading in full.

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