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Web 2.0 Tools Track California Fires October 25, 2007

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Convergence, Journalism, News, Web Video.

The Web proves yet again to be the information source of choice when major news breaks in the community. Web 2.0 is adding user generated voices to the mix of traditional media reports in the Malibu fires. In addition to Flickr photos and YouTube videos, users are giving reports through their Twitter streams.

Micro-blog services like Twitter certainly came into their own. Though Twitter allows only 140 characters and there is no support for images, it offers a way to get information out very quickly. It may be brief but in 140 characters, you can usually cover the basics of a crisis. Twitter streams @kbsnews and @nateritter are providing real time coverage.

Many publications in Southern California tapped Google Maps, Google Earth and their various tools in producing interactive maps to show exactly where every fire is and how controlled it is. Google has gone out of its way to make its free custom mapping tools available to share information.

People have pulled together to make maps with information about the fires, including the burn zones, evacuation alerts, evacuation centers, safe areas, and closed roads. Some of the most widely used fire map sites include KPBS, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News and Union-Tribune.


Above: While the federal government has been releasing NASA satellite images, they are taken from a height to give disaster officials an overview, but not the road-by-road analysis that is needed.

Noteworthy is how LATimes.com uses Google maps to provide that hyper-local touch that has been talked about so much as how a newspaper web site should be. Times’ prospective new chairman, Sam Zell owns a house in Malibu. He was told the house was okay and phoned the wife to tell her, but she told him she knew that already by accessing the Times’ web site.

Now that’s what the newspaper business should be all about. That’s making a difference. That’s providing unique local information that’s only available by virtue of who or what we are.

SAM ZELL, prospective new chairman of LA Times

Wikipedia has updates links to all the news stories as well. Also contributing to the reporting effort is San Diego Union-Tribune’s site. It offers a streaming Internet radio station, SignOn Radio that supplies steady coverage of the fires, including phoned-in live reports from area residents and people following the story from other regions.

News staff are manning the radio, taking calls. It’s a streaming audio version of what NOLA.com did during and after Hurricane Katrina. Reports are available via iTunes, which makes it very simple for millions of non-tech-savvy people to access. It’s also being streamed via realPlayer and Windows Media Player.

Mobile phone systems stood up to the extra traffic, allowing people to SMS and journalists to file their text, stills and video stories directly from the scene. There are lots of journalists on the ground from competing print and broadcast media, but the scope of the story is so great that there is some TV pooling going on.

Stations are posting raw video on their digital channels, asking the public to send in stills and clips. Much of the citizen witness reports is dramatic, shot as people were escaping areas encroached by flames. Old media may have higher quality video and more professional, in-depth reporting, but this disaster points out the value of user generated news content—even for traditional news organizations.

Newsrooms use Google Maps to improve wildfire coverage
Aggregated links to sites covering California fires
Using Web 2.0 tools to Track the Fires
How to Create a Google Map



1. bryan - October 25, 2007

I encourage analysis of the fundamental causes and exacerbating factors in these fires. Did changing weather patterns from global warming exacerbated these fires, and those in Greece? Did deployment of National Guard troops and hardware assets also delayed response? Politicians would like to squirm out of these questions, but they need to be explored independently.

2. khengze - October 26, 2007

A very good point Bryan and I’d like to toss this out to other readers of this blog – besides the innovative online coverage of the fires what kinds of analysis are we seeing on the firestorm? To be sure, in the midst of such a crisis, people just want to know where the fire was. Much of the coverage so far is event driven and fragmented since the fires are still unpredictable and getting the most attention from dramatic photos, amateur videos and television footage.

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