Monday, 9 February 2009

Bushfires, social media, and news journalism

As during last year's Bombay tragedy, the social media have again played a key role in getting the news out, letting people tell their loved ones that they were safe, and in spreading the information, all without seriously overloading the already strained phone networks.

Likewise the use of rss and twitter has allowed the authorities to spread information without overloading their own servers by allowing other sites to pick up and redistribute information without one particular site being overloaded.

And this tells us something very interesting about the process of getting the news out. While journalists at the ABC, the Age and the Australian, among others, did a sterling job of collating and communicating the event, it was the user uploaded photos, the flickr photostream, the tweets, that told the story. Journalism had become reportage, not reporting.

For ourselves, we huddled safe in Canberra avoiding the searing 40C heat outside and hoping that friends and family in Victoria were safe, and that fires didn't develop closer to home. Even then new technology touched us.

We used the internet to listen to the ABC Melbourne 774 stream for detailed news of what was happening, to check news websites, and to listen to the Radio Scotland morning news to find out what friends and family in Scotland would hear so that we would know how accurate the news was and what to say to explain and spread reassurance that we were safe.

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