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ivoh | January 17, 2018

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Media roles shifting in natural disasters

Media roles shifting in natural disasters'

As the tools of creating and consuming media find their way into more and more hands, the question for journalists in the face of violent disasters is tilting from “What can we tell?” to “What can we do?”

Among the first examples I spotted from the Oklahoma tornado this morning is the Moore Tornado Lost and Found created by, the website of the Daily Oklahoman.

“We created this page so people could connect with others and help share information and whereabouts,” reads the explanation on the top of the page. “You should also register with the Red Cross if you’re looking for someone.”

The page includes a link to the “Safe and Well” site created by the Red Cross. “Safe and Well” is a more sophisticated database of people declaring themselves OK and the people searching for them.

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 9.22.02 AMNewsOK’s Facebook page is a more basic collection of posts by people looking for someone and, so far, the occasional good news of someone reporting that they’re OK. At this point, less than 24 hours after the storm hit, the former outnumber the latter by a wide margin.

Disaster response is a genre of reporting that will get better and better, fortunately and sadly, with each disaster.

After the bombings at the Boston Marathon, Google created a page called “Google’s Person Finder” that connected worried friends and family with loved ones they had not heard from.

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 9.35.01 AMAnd the Boston Globe created a Google Doc called, “I have a place to offer” for out of town runners suddenly in need of a place to stay for an extra night in Boston.

Megan Garber of the Atlantic described this work well in a piece posted the day after the Marathon bombings. The headline:  “Boston and the kindness of Google Docs; Empathy, in the guise of spreadsheets.”

Among the challenges for media as-first-responders is figuring the tone and the timing of their balance of “doing” and “telling.”

As important as media-created apps can be in the initial aftermath of disaster, the longer term task remains the same: Telling the story.

AP photographer Sue Ogrocki, who has covered about a dozen tornados in her ten years working in Oklahoma, provided this personal account of the photos she made at one of the schools devastated by the storm Monday.

nyt frontNews organizations with some distance from the story — and fewer obligations and opportunities as first responders — are sometimes better positioned for compelling story telling as the news is still breaking.

I was struck by the account of the tornado by Nick Oxford and Michael Schwirtz that the New York Times presented as the entire first page of its iPad app first thing Tuesday morning. Their story was accompanied by a photo taken by Oxford of a woman, Tiffany Bauman, comforting a dying dog.

More often than not, though, it’s local journalists who are best able to tell the important stories that remain after the satellite trucks have moved on to the next big thing. I’m thinking especially of the remarkable reporting and writing Eric Moskowitz put into his Boston Globe account of the young man who was carjacked by the two brothers on the run after the Marathon bombings.

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 10.24.47 AMPoynter’s Roy Peter Clark highlighted a dozen reasons why the story worked, including Moskowitz’s decision to focus on action and to begin in medias res — in the middle of things. I’d add just one other reason, perhaps too obvious to list but forever critical in these kinds of circumstances: Staying with the story.

Amid the heartache and rubble of Moore, Oklahoma, for example, lies a story with the potential to shed light on why so many died and, just maybe, to reduce the casualties of future storms.


  1. One of the most important things journalists can do during a disaster/emergency is make sure that the information they deliver online through their blogs and Tweets is accurate. Bad information circulating during a disaster drowns out the essential information that people must have access to.

  2. Additional thought: Data and App Journalists trying to get a sense of what kind of assistance can be code- crafted to assist during a disaster might want to follow the conversations under way on facebook groups right now during #Moore #Tornado so they can understand the problems and construct a tool. here’s one group:

  3. along the lines of restorative narrative (I missed the gathering) I came across this book title that sounds like something to explore. Rebecca Solnit’s “A Paradise Built in Hell: The extraordinary communities that arise out of disaster.” When IVOH coined the term “restorative narrative” for me, I realized that “restorative narrative” is much of what I have been working on.