Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Integrating social media platforms into breaking news coverage

The Boulder floods. Wow. 

Just wow. 

This has been our first opportunity to really integrate the social media platforms of Storify and Scribblelive into our breaking coverage of a disaster, and there have been some big lessons. 

First, the reach: 

I don't know the stats for our website yet, but throughout the flood, we had more than 800 readers constantly logged on to the Scribblelive page. This does not count the 702 additional hits the first night on my blog here, and the thousands throughout the week. My blog was only promoted through my Twitter account, which was actually a Twitter trend the first night of the flood. 

This shows the power of an individual reporter's social media. 

My Twitter also gained more than 100 new followers in the first few days, which brought it to about 950 followers. 

My Storify projects received a great response in the first few days, without really being promoted from the newspaper's website or Twitter account. 

The Twitter Storify compilation from the first night received about 54,000 views. 
The Top Social Media Photos of the Boulder Flood created on day two received about 19,000 views. 
The Top Social Media Videos of the Boulder Flood only got about 400 views, which surprised me. 
Only In Boulder, created on day two or three, received about 8,000 views. 

By comparison, the most successful Storify I had created before was called What Does Your Living Room Say About You, and it ran alongside a fashion column in Life and Arts. It received a little over 1,000 views. 

The lessons

One challenge I had was coordinating with the city desk to get them promoted on our home page, not just on social media. This was tricky, because we had news breaking so fast on the city desk that it was barely possible to keep up (while many of our own houses were flooding, too). But at the same time, that meant readers were getting their news from Twitter first -- before the news sites. 

I created the Scribblelive and we embedded it onto our site in a story -- filtering out all of the spam (that'll be a whole blog in and of itself; what a challenge!) -- to redirect readers to our site for their Twitter updates, instead of Twitter. This not only drove traffic to our site, but it also served readers; I kept my eye on the feed (from 7 a.m.-3 a.m. every day for the first four days) and deleted spam and was able to monitor misinformation and respond to it, to attempt to keep rumors at bay. It served readers by also connecting them to reliable, official information on our webpage and resources to get help, as needed. 

The Storify projects were a different beast. 

Obviously, some of the absolute best pictures possible were coming from people in the middle of the floods. The videos, too. 

I created a "best of" pictures Storify the first night, but it quickly grew to a monster project that I could barely handle. Because every picture was the best. A few days later, I had to go back and sort through them, after the fact. I cut the number of pics in half, at least, and then continued to update it daily with a handful of the pictures that really caught my eye or were popular on social media. 

One thing I kept noticing was how many very unique pictures were coming through Instagram, in particular. Not only the college kids surfing and canoeing through the flood, but also people doing yoga on the shores of the roaring "creek" (in quotes), and Boulderites with their dogs by their sides exploring the wreckage. Beautiful art and poetic status updates and funny, quirky details. I felt like these pictures belonged somewhere -- but they didn't really rise to the "best of" status. That's why I created a Storify for Only in Boulder pictures. 

Boulder is truly like nowhere else. And these pictures represent another level of the community that is deeper than just the disaster. These pictures are the character and personality of the city affected. Yes, some are controversial -- especially with the tainted waters. But were selected for their uniqueness, rawness, honesty and their beautiful optimism. Not to make a joke of the flood. But to simply show people responding in their own unique ways. 

Everyone responds to disaster differently. There is no right or wrong way. This is Boulder's way. 

Then today, when I was updating our "best of" pictures, I noticed an influx of a different kind of image on Instagram and Twitter: relief posters, T-shirts, projects and fundraising efforts. I put together another Storify of these images -- "Floodraising." I also am helping put together a master calendar of fundraising efforts around town, and hopefully we can pair this Storify with that calendar online. 

Today, my editor created an official page bringing together all of the different social media projects I created over this past week. View it here

Covering a massive disaster like this has been transformed by social media. This was a different kind of reporting than I have done in the past and than the other journalists in my newsroom did. I hope it added some immediacy, action, depth and even width to our coverage. 

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