Covering a Disaster Digitally

Posted: March 31, 2011 by Mike Carter in #9 Japan

News organizations handle large amounts of information everyday that has arrived to them through a variety of sources. When large catastrophic events happen, such as the recent natural disasters in Japan, there is a brief moment when these varied sources turn their collective attention on the gripping event.

News organizations also use a variety of resources available to them to tell stories, including in the digital age the recent uses of multimedia and social media tools.

Using their Facebook page, the Globe and Mail shared stories about the tragedy which appeared in the online version of the publication. This allowed the stories to be available for comment in a safe zone, apart from the comment section on the website. I call it a safe zone because with Facebook, identities are assured – barring fake Facebook accounts which range from easy to detect, to flawless imitations created at the hands of lifeless individuals. It also allowed for the stories to reach a wider audience that may see the stories on Facebook, but visit the paper’s website rarely or not at all.

Using Facebook, Twitter and other social media devices to capture the attention of readers has had an enormous impact in the extent to which news is disseminated. As we referred to in an earlier class, the internet is the equivalent to the printing revolution that followed the invention of the printing press. Not only is the news being shared in new ways, but it is being told in new ways as well.

Coupling text stories with video reports provides an all encompassing coverage that allows the reader/viewer to view the scene on the ground from a camera lens, and then read an in-depth analysis of what is happening.

Here are a few great examples of the coverage of the Japan disaster by Al-jazeera and the BBC:

The first, from Al-jazeera is concerned with the immediate fears of nuclear meltdown that followed the earthquake and Tsunami. The video shows pictures of the Tsunami raging through the streets and the plums of smoke escaping from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant as the plant’s cooling abilities for its nuclear reactor are lost.

The video combines original reporting in voice overlay with Japanese broadcaster NHK’s news reports and merges video clips collected as the destruction unfolded. The article that follows provides further analysis, deepening the readers understanding of the crisis. It is like watching the TV news and reading the newspaper all at once.

The second, from the BBC, provides a smaller text version which summarizes the video above. This not meant to be a comparison between the coverage of the BBC and Al-jazzera. The BBC did in fact have many pieces similar to the first one described. Instead, I just wanted to show another way that the combination of text and video is done.

Interactive guides and maps that allow readers to see where the most destruction occurred and to comprehend the impact of both the tsunami and the earthquakes on the island are also made possible form the merging of text, images and video. Interactive maps such as this one allow the users to be their own guide through the event, and provide excellent resources for journalists covering the story now and in the future. What we see is a brand new way of telling stories, what we as journalists do. Not to be ignored is the way in which donations for aid can be collected digitally, such as can be found here.

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