Hurricane Sandy turned the social networks into virtual, 24-hour, non-stop newsrooms for many people. Whether or not you had power, whether you checked your pages on a desktop or mobile devices, it seemed everyone everywhere in affected areas (and beyond) were communicating, updating, and commiserating on the social networks.
I will freely admit that although my home was unaffected by the weather, I became utterly obsessed with checking in with followers, friends, and fans on Facebook, which became the visual ground zero for me for all things Sandy. I shared and soaked up countless compelling, frightening, and sad images posted by everyday people, news organizations, and bloggers. I posted updates, news, announcements on my wall for people to see. I got hooked on a newfound page, Tri-State Weather, where a lot of my weather-related posts came from. From the devastation on the Jersey Shore to the decimation on Staten Island, Queens, and other areas of New York, I and so many others came together in a newly formed online community that rallied 'round the storm victims (human and animal) to create a new kind of news organization.
Many people took to tweeting constant updates using various storm-related hash tags and I did follow the headlines there, and shared some updates throughout that first week. But for me, the double-whammy of existing relationships and all those photos and videos on Facebook truly became the newsroom of the moment. One friend created a new group page devoted solely to post-hurricane news: a place where people can share volunteer meetups, donation drives, tips on how to get to badly hit neighborhoods to deliver goods, who needs what and where and when. I was thoroughly gripped by this, actually unable to focus on my work that week as I was driven to be part of the breaking news.
I believe that this large-scale disaster has ramped up social media's place in news reporting . . . not journalism per se, as I am not stating that good, authentic, in-depth news reportage has been replaced. But it certainly was pushed aside a bit to make room for all the ordinary and extraordinary people who were reporting from the field in a way not seen before. We have all grown accustomed to local newscasts running video that was sent in by viewers, and I've noticed Twitter handles and hash tags in bugs on the screen during news programs more and more.
Ted Turner's visionary idea decades ago for a real-time, worldwide, 24-hour news station has given birth to a whole different way to do breaking news on social networks. I would never have thought, as a young copywriter working on the launch of CNN in the early 1980s, that I would be part of the news cycle in some small way during a natural disaster years later. The experience was absorbing on a level I could not have foreseen and I was gratified to hear that people who were following me were getting useful information. Now that the initial wave of Sandy has passed and the long, hard work of reconstruction begins, I hope I don't ever have the "opportunity" to feel compelled again to become a citizen journalist in times of struggle and darkness. I'd much rather stick to informational posts, newsy tidbits about advertising, marketing, or public relations, and promotions for my clients on my Facebook business page, my LinkedIn profile, or on Twitter or Google+.