When I first heard of the earthquake in Japan, my first reaction wasn’t to check CBC News or the New York Times, it was to check Facebook. In my second year at St. Thomas, I spent four months studying in Japan’s most Northern province of Hokkaido. Naturally, my first concern was whether the city I lived in (Sapporo) was affected. I quickly scanned the profiles of Japanese students I met at my university. They were covered with frantic messages from friends and family members who wanted to know if they were safe. Fortunately, Hokkaido was spared of any serious damage, as it was several hundred kilometers from the epicentre and everyone I knew remained safe and healthy.
I wasn’t the only one using Facebook when the earthquake struck. CBC News used the social networking site to contact Canadians with connections to Sendai. A method like this would have been unthinkable fifteen years ago. It provides instant access to the fifteen thousand members of the group and is a great resource for story ideas and contacts.
The use of social media in the wake of disasters like the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan are proving to be very valuable to the art of storytelling. Journalists can’t possibly tell every story and social media is giving a voice to the ones left behind. Often the best stories are those told from the people who experienced it first hand. This power is given to citizens through social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter, but also through the efforts of news corporations who create blogs and other forums for people to contribute to. The CBC calls it “Citizen Byte.” It’s a space for readers to post videos, pictures or written messages. It provides individual stories and photography from people like Yuri Komuro, a thirty-year-old Canadian living in Tokyo. Komuro describes how the eighteen storey building she was in began swaying back and forth.
The disaster in Japan deals with several complex issues, many of which are beyond the grasp of even the educated reader. The Herald Sun does a fantastic job of explaining the science behind these issues. Its interactive diagrams explain exactly what happens during an earthquake and a tsunami. It also simplifies the science behind nuclear reactors. It uses photos, video and animated charts and simulations. Approaches like this give the story more depth and give the reader a better understanding of topics they may not be familiar with.