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Citizen Journalism – Hurricane Sandy Case Study

On October 29 2012 a hurricane named ‘Sandy’ became the largest Atlantic hurricane on record devastating areas of the Mid-Atlantic, Caribbean and the North East of the US as well as having lesser affects in the Southwest, Midwest US states and Eastern Canada. Due to the severe damage caused by the hurricane, some reports referred to it as a ‘superstorm’. It was reported that

“after having left more than 60 people dead in the Caribbean, Hurricane Sandy is said to have caused the deaths of more than 80 people in its next port-of-call, the United States, including 41 in New York City alone”


It is thought that the economic losses range to around the $50 billion mark, with $12 billion stemming from the New York City metropolitan.

Citizen journalism became important in this with people beginning to take it on in different forms, in particular social media, e.g.

“When Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the evening of Oct. 29, many residents looked to social media to inform them on the latest happenings of the on-going devastation, which ranged from flood reports to reports of power outages and violent winds, to even fires. Millions used social networks like Twitter and Facebook to discover and share important news, as well as their own statuses with family and friends”


This is clear evidence citizen journalism became people’s source of news as well as using it to contribute with their own information. Social media became invaluable, with Facebook being a means of spreading information and fundraising. People affected by the storm were without these forms of communication and could not inform what was happening, so it required people to go into affected areas and report the information to outsiders, e.g.

“the people with the least access to the Internet as a result of the storm are the ones who may benefit the most from social media. Those who have ventured into the devastated areas have been able to get information out so that help can come in from informing those outside of the devastated areas”


Doing this allowed photos of the devastated areas to be documented online for the world to see, informing the public of what happened. This was a major influence for relief efforts, these images and the information released by citizen journalism prompted Facebook pages to start-up of people sharing experiences of the event and donation pages. Without this information being collected by outsiders, posting it online or giving the information to the news outlets, the destruction may not have been revealed on the level it was. These pages will survive longer than a television news broadcast and it

“continues to be a source of support and assistance”



The Types of Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism is basically when a citizen reports the news. There are two main forms of citizen journalism and one is that it is usually opportunistic however it can also be planned.

Once the information has been captured by a citizen, it is usually distributed through social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs (all products of the digital age).

The majority of people today have the access to all the information they need as well as internet at home or on the go, e.g. through a mobile phone. As well as this social media has been on the rise with Facebook and Twitter now a necessity for news organisations to use as a source of news.

There are many different types of citizen journalism and citizen journalists. As mentioned it can be opportunistic and this is the most common form of citizen journalism reported. This accidental form happens when a bystander or citizen happen to be in the right place at the right time, for example at the site of a tragedy that has just happened and they witness the incident unfolding before them and capture it through film, photos or write about the event. What the person does with the information they have captured is their own choice, they may post it their selves on their blog or through social media or in some cases, citizen journalists work with the media the get the message out to the public through global media and in a more professional context.

The other type of citizen journalist is somebody who has purposely placed their selves at the scene in order to capture an event as it unfolds to communicate this to the rest of the world. Although they have done this they will not have any journalistic training or background and therefore class as a citizen journalist, an ordinary person reporting like the professionals.

Local Newspapers – A Waste Of Time

Local newspapers are boring and increasingly becoming a waste of time. Obviously it varies from town to town but in my experience local news has never really interested me and it is something that is often over-looked by most people, many choosing to get their news online whether it is local or national.

Most local newspapers are distributed to houses freely in a desperate attempt to gain readers or even to keep their loyal readers. I believe the main readers of local newspapers are that of the older generation who have been around the area a long time and enjoy engaging with the happenings of their town. Although if the older generation were brought up with technology they too might find that they would rarely look at local news and only online if they were to.

“The biggest change to the local and national media landscape over the past two decades is the emergence of new technology. There is now much more choice for people using media – whether it is audio, video or text – as digital technologies and the internet offer alternatives to traditional media platforms.”

(Future for local and regional media – The Culture, Media and Sport Committee)

The rise of bloggers and social media has made local news redundant. Everybody knows what is happening in their town with a constant flow of updates from their local Facebook friends or the Twitterverse before any local newspaper can tell you what is happening. Because of this it makes the regular newspaper that is posted through the door just another bit of junk mail which is never looked at and eventually thrown away.

The fact is that there is no money in local news anymore. In Richard Jones, ‘What do we mean by local?’ he speaks about how he set up his own hyperlocal news website, Saddlesworth News. Although he was able to reach a significant number in terms of readership he found difficulty in persuading local advertisers to become involved with his online venture.

 “Most of the ads I did sell were to people who used the website as readers and had their own small online businesses”

(What do we mean by local? – Richard Jones)

Whether the local news is free or not there seems to be a major lack of money and a successful profit involved with producing it be it online or in traditional print. We cannot tell what will happen to local news but I feel it won’t be long until the traditional print of local newspapers becomes redundant and we use online if at all for our local news.

Social Media – Embrace It Or Get Left behind

Social media is a popular term used these days, a term that would not have been used a decade ago and would have been relatively unknown. Twitter and Facebook did not exist, we didn’t have YouTube and the internet was just coming into popular use. Thus began the digital age and now you’ll be hard pressed to find somebody who doesn’t have a Twitter account let alone not know what it is.

Back in 2001 before the events of 9/11, before camera phones and social media really rose up citizen journalism didn’t really exist, it required specialist skills to take and upload video of a news event. People like business men who were specially trained in using html and were web savvy users able to create their own websites.

Fast forward to 2012 and everybody uses social media, anybody can create a website or have a blog in the digital age. Now news is instantly confirmed via mobile apps or we can check Facebook status’ or tweets whereas before we would have had to email or call via a landline. As well as this, news organisations now use social media to better cover information they were unable to then, calling on the masses for their input via UGC.

“The story is simple: Many of the major features of how we live, communicate, and get our information today did not exist — or at least were in their very nascent stages — in 2001. The entire Internet had 500 million users and something like 3 million public websites. HTML 4.0, which gave the web its basic features, had just entered its final published state. Facebook and Gmail wouldn’t launch for another three years; Twitter for another five. Google was not yet a recognizable verb. Another difference: No one at school had cell phones, let alone wireless Internet access.”

(Rosen, 10 years Can Be a Long Time: The World Wide Web on 9/11)

The rise of social media has come about hand in hand with traditional news however there are some who fear the digitizing of news.

“Most people are still happy to rely on mainstream news organisations to sort fact from fiction and serve up a filtered view, but they are increasingly engaged by this information, particularly when recommended by friends or another trusted source.”

(Nic Newman (2009) The rise of social media and its impact on mainstream journalism)

The thing about Twitter is there is a flow of false information for example the deaths of numerous celebrities, which can be so easily taken in, not just by the gullible but by credible news organisations hoping to break the story first and trusting the first bit of information they see on Twitter.

However I feel that social media is an aid for journalism despite its’ downfalls. I believe that the way it breaks news through trending topics and collating all the news in one ideal location has created a greater interest in news through a great online discussion and the spreading need to share information with others. Social media is enabling live coverage of events such as hurricane Sandy which allows bursts of information as it is happening before leading people to the in-depth piece they will want to read.

Social media is just the beginning and something we are embracing. It will continue to rise and rise with journalism and ten years from now who knows just how we will be communicating and getting our news. It will evolve to fill the void just like social media did in the past decade and we can only wait for what the future holds.