Note: This item originally included a photograph of a woman being rescued that was cited as an example of citizen media. On March 16, I was informed that the photo was, in fact, the copyrighted work of Daniel Morel, a professional photojournalist. Please see this for more information.
Update: Wednesday, 7:21 p.m. We are posting more links in the comments.
Ever since a tsunami devastated South Asia in December 2004, social media and citizen journalism have been recognized as key components of covering natural disasters and other breaking news stories. Professional news organizations can’t be everywhere; on the other hand, millions of people are carrying cell phones with cameras. New-media expert Steve Outing called the tsunami “a tipping point” for citizen journalism.
In such a decentralized news environment, the challenge for journalism has been to make sense of what is happening in something approaching real time. Most recently, social media have played an important role in bringing news of the Iranian protest movement to the outside world.
So when a major earthquake hit western Haiti yesterday, it was no surprise that news organizations, large and small, tapped into Haiti’s online community in order to provide them with the on-the-ground eyes and ears they did not have. Given Haiti’s unfortunate status as one of the poorest countries in the world, you might not think there would be much in the way of electronic communication. In fact, there is a lively and heartbreaking stream of reports coming out of the island.
I’ll begin closest to home. Last night the Boston Haitian Reporter started a live blog to gather accounts from readers and to link out to relevant information. The blog includes a live Twitter stream of news from Haiti. As the Boston Globe observes, there are 43,000 people of Haitian descent living in Greater Boston.
The New York Times, which over the past few years has morphed into one of the most Internet-savvy news organizations, has, not surprisingly, posted stories, a slideshow and a Reuters video. But the real action is taking place on The Lede, its blog for breaking news, which includes everything from staff reports to cell-phone photos posted to TwitPic. The Times has put together a Twitter list of people and organizations posting news updates about Haiti. And it is actively soliciting reports from its readers:
The New York Times would like to connect people inside and outside Haiti who are searching for information about the situation on the ground. Readers outside Haiti who have friends and relatives in the country, along with readers in Haiti who are still able to access the Internet, can use the comments section below as a forum to share updates. Some readers may be searching for the same family members.
Have you been able to reach loved ones in the area affected by the earthquake? What have you learned from people there?
National Public Radio’s efforts bear some similarities to those of the Times. NPR is concentrating its breaking-news and linking efforts on its blog The Two-Way, and it has also assembled a Twitter list.
CNN, whose iReport project is a major outlet for citizen journalists, has put together a page on the Haitian earthquake. As is often the case with citizen media, it’s not always easy to tell what you’re looking at. Some of the images are quite graphic, and are slapped with a label reading “Discretion advised.”
One of my favorite examples of professional journalists and citizen bloggers working together is Global Voices Online, a project founded at Harvard Law’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society several years ago. Global Voices’ editors round up bloggers from every part of the world. For the most part, they labor in obscurity. But not at moments like this.
As of this morning you’ll find a compilation of tweets and photos and a digest of what bloggers in Haiti and throughout the Caribbean are saying. Here is Afrobella, described as a “Trinidadian diaspora blogger”:
Right now my heart aches for Haiti. The already-suffering island nation was just hit with a 7.0 earthquake. A hospital has collapsed. Government buildings have been severely damaged. There was a major tsunami watch, earlier. Reports of major devastation are just starting to pour in…my thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Haiti, and anyone with friends or family in Haiti.
You can also click through directly to Afrobella’s blog.
Twitter itself is a good source of raw information. At the moment, Yéle, a charity founded by Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean, is the number-two trending topic, and “Help Haiti” is number three. If you want to dip into the Twitter torrent, try searching on #haiti.