The Most Innovative Digital Coverage of Superstorm #Sandy

    by Dan Pacheco
    November 1, 2012

    Updated Nov. 5, 2:15 p.m. EDT.

    While I’ve been blogging on Idea Lab since 2008, this is my first post since starting my new job as the Peter Horvitz Chair of Journalism Innovation at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. In that role, I’m adopting an Idea Lab “beat” that I call “Journovation“ that seeks to put the spotlight on innovative ways that journalists, and the people formerly known as the audience, do their jobs. You can read more posts like this at our Journovation site, and JournovationSU on Twitter.

    First up: natural disaster reporting thanks to Superstorm Sandy.


    Disasters bring out many of the most predictable cliches of traditional media (reporters standing in the middle of a storm surge, photos of empty store shelves, and worse), but they also lead to some of the best and most impactful work by journalists, computer programmers, and online services. Sandy broke all the records as one of the worst storms to ever hit the East Coast, and I think history will also show it to be groundbreaking in the way it was covered online.

    Here’s a short list of innovative coverage that I drew up with Brian Moritz, a Newhouse doctoral student who helps with the Journovation Journal. This is by no means a complete list, or even the most definitive (what you and I think of as “innovative” may differ), so I invite you to post links below to tools, services and coverage that did a good job of informing people about the storm or helped victims share vital information.

    Data Visualization, Infographics and Social Media

    • Instacane: Instagram is growing in popularity as a breaking news source as more people are using it to post photos. This service used the Instagram API to show a steady stream of photos tagged to Sandy.

    i-f3eb9704aa3e2e2bdf1130b0c81ceab8-instacane sandy.jpg

    • Hint.fm’s Wind Map: A beautiful visualization of surface wind data from the National Digital Forecast Database, revised once per hour. Note that while the map uses real data, it should not be used for navigation, flight planning or anything mission-critical.
    • New York Times Infographics: The New York Times posted interactive infographics the morning after the storm that made it clear which areas were experiencing power failures, fires, floods and more. The data visualizations were often more useful than simply reading about affected areas in the text of a story.
    • WNYC Flood Gauge: WNYC in New York had a real-time flood gauge, allowing people to see exactly how high the New York City rivers were in real time.

    Local Resources and Grass Roots Media

    • Jersey Shore Hurricane News: Operating completely on Facebook, this “bottom-up, two-way news outlet” is posting photos, videos and critically important aid information to people on the New Jersey coastline and many others who are looking for ways to help. It’s also serving as a community hub for people who are looking for missing people and lost pets. The site launched after Hurricane Irene in 2011 with 27,00 followers, and its following has already grown to over 150,000.
    • MTA on Flickr: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority that’s responsible for the New York subways and buses is posting photos of the transportation damage on its Flickr feed. Here’s one of those shots of a boat on a New York Subway’s Rockaway line:


    • The Hurricane Hackers group: A project of the MIT Media Lab that software programmers and data geeks are using to create new tools to assist during the aftermath of the storm. I list this not because of what it produced, but simply because it exists, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of a group of programmers who are hacking together tools for current and future disasters. It also has a growing link list of hacker-worthy hurricane coverage.
    • CNN iReport Sandy Damage Open Story:CNN-curated user videos of hurricane damage zones. Every video shows its location on a map to the side, and you can navigate through the map to find videos of specific areas. Users can also upload to the page, or from the iReport app.

    Live Coverage, Curation and Aggregation

    • DigitalFirst Media’s Hurricane Sandy News: This topical aggregation page was going all day and night featuring the latest news from affected areas. It put local reports, wire stories and webcams on the same topical page, and even had a way for people to report issues on a map.
    • New York Times’ Sandy Webcam: The New York Times put a webcam on top of its roof and posted an updated picture every minute — now compiled into an animation. It provides a time-lapsed view of the storm over three days. While some may say that a webcam ain’t innovation these days, I think they deserve credit for setting up a dedicated camera that took photos from the same spot every minute during the storm.
    • Buffy’s World: Buffy Andrews of the York Record created several interesting and well-done slideshows on her blog using geographically-targeted social media photos found through Geofeedia, a paid service.
    • NJ.com #NJopen Twitter Feed: Sometimes the best innovations are also the simplest. NJ.com is using the Twitter API to pull in live tweets hashtagged #njopen and #njgas so residents can quickly find out where to get food, and where to get gas.
    • Reuters’ Live Sandy Coverage: Reuters, along with many other media outlets, used ScribbleLive (a paid service) to combine live posts with curated social media posts. In addition to posting their own content, they posted live polls for questions on peoples’ minds, such as “Should the New York marathon be canceled?”
    • WSJ’s WorldStream: The Wall Street Journal had 40 reporters filing short video clips all up and down the Eastern Seaboard through the WorldStream service run by Mark Scheffler.

    Maps and Mapping APIs

    • Google’s Hurricane #Sandy map showed the most recent hurricane cone prediction as it  approached land, but also has other information layers — such as storm surge probability.
    • The Guardian’s Sandy Map: The Guardian’s Data Blog is tracking and mapping verifiable events in Sandy’s aftermath. Every event includes a link to more info, and the ability to download full data as a Google Fusion table to use for other purposes.
    • The BBC published some clickable 3D maps that overlay photos and videos of the worst-hit areas. While a clickable map is fairly traditional online these days, using a 3D map that includes recognizable New York City buildings made this one stand out.

    Didn’t see something above that you found, or even created? Like I said, this is just a short list. Post your finds below and help me put the spotlight on more journovators!

    More Reading

    Best Online Resources, Videos, Photos from Hurricane Sandy Coverage by Jenny Xie

    Dan Pacheco is the Peter A. Horvitz Chair in Journalism Innovation at the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University. Currently a professor teaching entrepreneurial journalism and innovation, he is also an active entrepreneur and CEO of BookBrewer, which he co-founded. He’s previously worked as a reporter (Denver Post), online producer (Washingtonpost.com, founding producer), community product manager (AOL) and news product manager (The Bakersfield Californian). His work has garnered numerous awards, including two Knight-Batten Awards for Innovation in Journalism, a Knight News Challenge award in 2007 (Printcasting) and an NAA 20 Under 40 award (Bakotopia). At last count, he’d launched 24 major digital initiatives centered around community publishing, user participation or social networking. Pacheco is a proponent of constant innovation and reinvention for both individuals and industries. He believes future historians will see today as the golden age of digital journalism, and that its impact will overshadow current turmoil in legacy media.

    Tagged: coverage hurricane media natural disaster reporting sandy superstorm

    Comments are closed.

  • Who We Are

    MediaShift is the premier destination for insight and analysis at the intersection of media and technology. The MediaShift network includes MediaShift, EducationShift, MetricShift and Idea Lab, as well as workshops and weekend hackathons, email newsletters, a weekly podcast and a series of DigitalEd online trainings.

    About MediaShift »
    Contact us »
    Sponsor MediaShift »
    MediaShift Newsletters »

    Follow us on Social Media