Thanks to massive adoption of blogging and other do-it-yourself Web 2.0 tools like Twitter we have seen an explosion in citizen journalism in recent years. That goes without saying on a blog like this. But there is a related trend emerging which is perhaps not so apparent. Lets (rather clumsily) call it Citizen Journateerism. Citizen Journateerism = Citizen Journalism + Volunteerism. Basically that means ordinary folks leveraging social media tools to help people in need. I’m not talking about political or community-relevant reporting and opinioning, which is certainly a kind of volunteer community service, but about the re-purposing of citizen journalism tools in response to life and death issues on the ground. Think of a CNN “storm center”, only created by your Uncle Harry and not a professional news team.
The first time I started paying attention to this trend was about a year ago when Nate Ritter of San Diego created a Twitter channel to provide up to date information on a series of wild fires that ravaged Southern California.
More recently, and in response to hurrican Gustav, Internet activist and a social media strategist for NPR, Andy Carvin, put together an independent Hurricane Information Center on the fly. The site was a grassroots effort that soon gathered momentum among other tech savvy volunteers as Gustav’s more menacing cousin Ike came on the scene.
What makes Carvin’s effort particularly interesting, other than the fact that it was built on a social networking platform (Ning) and has more Web 2.0 bells and whistles than you will likely find on any mainstream media site, is it’s spontaneous and completely voluntary nature. It wasn’t created by and for NPR, or any other major news network, and yet has some of the best information and features for people impacted by or following major hurricanes in the United States. it integrates up to the moment national weather service information with local reports of people on the ground, shows maps of hurricane locations, and helps people find immediate assistance through zipcode based tracking tools. After Ike touched down, it streamed useful ads from Craigslist with offers of assistance and housing for hurricane victims. And the site is ready to go for use in up and coming storms.
The Hurricane Information Center is not pretty from a user design standpoint, but the array of information and services provided is extremely impressive. And without any apparent resources besides some technical expertise and a commitment to get people practical information ASAP, it is exactly what you would expect for last minute, community-driven project.
So is the Hurricane Information Center a bell weather for a new kind of citizen journalism, and are we likely to see more of this happening as average do gooders leverage free and open information sharing and reporting tools to help people locally, nationally and internationally in times of crisis?
Finally, what other examples of “Citizen Journateerism” are people aware of and is there a different or better name for this stuff?