Daily Archives: March 11, 2011

Citizen journalists: Disaster reporting. Good or bad?

It’s been almost too horrific watching the news on Friday with the dreadful images of the Earthquake and horrific images and videos of the Tsunami that has devastated northern Japan.  Twitter was streaming with links to terrible pictures, videos and news reports of the unimaginable destruction that seemed to be flooding into our own living rooms.  the world quickly became aware of what was happening – as it was happening.  Rescue teams were mobilised, news teams rushed to the area, and on the technical side, Google quickly created a person finder to log details about people in the are who were affected

Compare this with the Tsunami that inundated the Indian ocean on 26th December 2004.

Back in 2004, Twitter and YouTube didn’t exist. Facebook was only available to a few universities in the US.  The only tools we used to communicate with each other were our blogs and I remember not feeling able to blog about something so terrible for several days after it had happened.  I watched the news reports, trying to comprehend the scale and size of the disaster as the images and news became co-ordinated and available to all.

This disaster seemed to be different.  YouTube, which has its own channel, Citizen Tube for citizen journalism, soon filled with horrible images.  Videos of the Tsunami showed not only the dreadful passage of the water flooding inland, but, also captured people taking photographs, videos and recording the events as they happened to upload to the net later

March 11 Tsunami Japan


It’s true that the massive amounts of extra images, recordings and dialogue help us enormously in trying to comprehend the magnitude of a disaster like this, but unfortunately, in our desire to receive the news as it happens, often incorrect information gets published and propagated.  Fortunately, with the wealth of information at our fingertips, now there’s enough correct information to put things right quickly and accurately.  Contrast this with the time it must have taken to get an accurate news report after the San Francisco earthquake in 1906.  It could have been days or even weeks before a full picture emerged  across the US perhaps?

The amount of information flooding our screens and news feeds must have been dreadfully distressing for people who were trying to trace loved ones.  They must have been extremely anxious.  With mobile networks down in the affected region, and power blackouts, it must have been an agonising time for many people waiting for news, whilst seeing the live feeds, images and videos on YouTube.

So in these ‘always on, always connected’ times, is it actually ‘better’ for us to have this flood of awful information as it happens?  Is our 24 hour news reporting giving us the extra information that we have to have.  Has this amount of information from citizen journalists made us feel more sorry for the souls lost in Japan, than we were after the Indian Ocean Tsunami?  Has it added to our sympathy?

Images or no images, video or no video my heart goes out to everyone who has been affected by this earthshift.  And after seeing that black wave of debris sweeping away everything in its path, I will never think the same way about the word Tsunami again…